I was fortunate to be able to attend the Novelist Retreat that Yvonne Lehman puts on
at Ridgecrest near Ashville, NC. It was a time of getting to meet other authors and offer workshops for writers to learn more of the craft of writing.
One of the most important lessons to learn is that there is no one way to write. You have to learn, by experience, what works best for you,.
This was evidenced by the writers selected to be our faculty. In this corner (read in the voice of the WWE announcer) was Steven James. Steven is an organic writer, which means he writes without an outline. He lets the story guide him. Sometimes into a corner, without a way out. But, he says, that is often when we have to be our most creative. (His book, Story Trumps Structure is a great resource and teacher of this method.)
And in this corner. . . Torry Martin and Diann Mills showed how structure gives you a start and format for your book or story. A simple way to look at this is the three-act structure with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The life of a writer is demanding and forces you to be a little different. Vonda Skelton, at the Asheville Christian Writers’ Conference, said that all writers are a little weird. That ‘s why we need to get together occasionally. No one else can understand us.
This has me thinking about some things that I’m facing as a writer.
First, the life of a writer is, like a lot of things, a dichotomy. Much of being a writer is private. You are alone in front of your keyboard and screen, or with a pen and paper. Oftentimes at the cost of being away from your family and friends. You have to carve out time and guard it closely so that you will have enough alone time to write.
But writing it also makes you very open and public. Usually you write so that others can read it. Sometimes very private thoughts or feelings that other people are smart enough to keep to themselves. You write it and share it publicly, with your name attached.
And because it is private and from your soul, you are attached to it so that any time you share it, it is with trembling hearts and sensitive feelings. If they don’t like it or accept it with thunderous applause and hallelujahs, then they don’t like you and you are garbage or the stuff you step in when you’re wearing your good shoes.
Second, a lot of writing happens between the ears. The writing process to me is fascinating. You have to come up with something to write. You think, staring at a blank wall or into space. Your friends and family pointing at you, whispering, and shaking their heads. I do a lot of this looking at the back ends of my dogs as I take them for their walks and hope that no one is looking when I walk into a tree or bush because I am into
So you spend days and weeks writing furiously. And your spouse looks at the blank page and asks, when are you going to start? And you look back like they should see what hard work you are doing, staring at the ceiling.
Third, why is it that my thoughts and what I write, aren’t always the same? Once you get it in your brain, you try to put it on paper. Which becomes a real struggle because the partial thoughts now have to be clarified and put totally into words, because your reader can’t get inside your brain. Heavens no.
So you struggle to find just the right words to truly say your thoughts, and once you come close and are happy you got it just right, you read it out loud, or courageously let someone else read it. And you realize you either left out words and ideas, or that wasn’t the story you had in mind, or you misquoted yourself. But it was so clear before. Maybe.
Fourth, the real work begins after the first draft. You rework it, edit it, reword it, and rearrange it. You crumble it up and throw it away, before digging it out of the trash and restarting the next morning. And you try to quit thinking about how the calendar keeps shedding pages as you work on this thing that you adore as an only child, that becomes something the world may want to see, then a burden that must be completed, then stinky garbage, then a holy and sacred mission, then an orphan that no one else cares about but you will not quit on it, to an American classic that needs to be in every school, all in one
Finally, the goal of the writer. And then finally you complete it. You are a novelist. You write those two marvelous words, The End. You try it in different fonts. It’s like you’ve lost weight. You stand a little taller. You’d swear that other people thought you had become smarter.
And now you take your baby out of its papoose and sterile nursery and try to find a publisher. And they all agree, it’s garbage. Or at least that is what you hear. But they’re really saying they aren’t looking for this now, or they will publish it when you pay them $5000, or they don’t do this genre, or they are a pub, not a publisher.
But then you find a publisher who agrees it isn’t garbage, in fact it is exactly what they’re looking for and they want to buy it. With real American money, or at least a good check. And they like you. You have a pal. You become friends on Facebook. You call your mom. You reward yourself. You throw a party with the advance that should be coming.
Then they suggest maybe your story will sell better with just a few minor changes. Have you thought about making your hundred thousand word historical novel into a graphic novel? Or a western with a werewolf atmosphere set in New York? And can the heroine’s service dog become a cat?
Or a sea turtle? They may be hot next year.
And, by the way, they ask, what are you working on now?
I would love to read your comments below. And thanks for reading.
A couple of unconnected thoughts and tidbits that seem to be bouncing around in my head.
1) My precious wife, Vickie, came home earlier this week and came bouncing up to where I was writing. She had something she just had to show me. It was something she’d found in one of the thrift stores around us.
She handed me an old box of matches, the long ones you use to light stoves and fireplaces. The box was old and beat up, and didn’t look like anything special. It had tags from another store it must have been at, also.
“Open it,” the Cheshire cat said.
So I did, because I am a good husband. Inside were several matches, some used ––who would put a used match back in the box? And a picture of old Ben Franklin with 100 printed beside it. Yep, a one hundred dollar bill.
Being made ready to burn, I guess.
2) That reminds me that Daddy (George, my earthly father) used to carry around a couple of hundred dollar bills in his billfold. We were peach farmers, and not a lot of money could be found in my family tree.
I remember someone from out of state came to our house and bought a load of peaches. He paid with three Ben Franklins and a little more. Daddy acted like it was the first time he’d ever seen one. He carried one of those bills around the rest of the summer, pulling it out to make a joke
I wonder what he would think now that their changing the look of it every few months.
Doesn’t it look more like monopoly money now than a real bill? Poor Ben.
3) I have another personal story about hundred dollar bills I think I have already posted. It let me know that they are no big deal to our heavenly Father.
4) I am so blessed to be able to get the training that I’m getting right now, and it’s all being done at home. I’m watching the Master Class on fiction writing that James Patterson is teaching, I’m reading Write Away by Elizabeth George who is telling how she writes, and I just finished reading Crafting a Life in Essay, Story, and Poem by Donald Murray who is a writing teacher and does a great job of talking about the craft of writing. All three of these have been very informative and encouraging.
One thing that concerned me when I looked at taking classes at colleges were how many are led by non-writers. They only write so they can teach. Once they have a book, they rest. How can they show me where I’m going when I get to my fifth book if they’ve never been there.
Patterson, JP to his students, talks about how we should always remember the reader when we write. In fact, he suggests that we imagine them sitting across the table when we write. Which means I’d need a shave and to clean off a seat.
But that was exactly the problem I found in a book that I read recently. The writer wrote that he wanted to show how God will communicate with us today, if we will just listen.
Perfect. Love that message.
The problem was the book was just a list of problems, sicknesses and deaths that his family had gone through, which was sad, but he never showed us the lessons that he had learned through them. The reader is left asking so what?
When I was preaching/teaching, that was always the question I wanted to be able to answer at the end, so what?
And isn’t that the key we need to get across to our readers, students, mentees, and people watching us every day?