So you want to write a book? (Kathy Pritchett)

Are you sure? Do you want to dedicate hours, days, weeks, months and even years to make what is in your imagination come alive for others? Do you want to hear criticism, both constructive and just plain mean, about what you have poured your soul into? Okay, if your answer is yes, plow ahead for some advice from someone who has been there.

First of all, write. Every day. Make it a habit. The more you do this, the easier it will become for the words to tiptoe out from hiding and show themselves. Sadly, this is a piece of advice I seldom heed. I guess, though I have considered myself a writer from the age of 14 (that’s a lotta years; don’t bother with the math; we deal in words!), I also suffer from the fear that this gift that has been entrusted to me will be taken away, and the words won’t come. Even the main character in More Than a Point of Honor and The Judas Seat (and more books, if I can just let them out), successful novelist Richard Matthews, fears the words not flowing.

Second, do your research. I just read another book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Like all of her books, it teams with minute historical, medical, psychological detail. You smell the unwashed people, feel the sweat run down your back, tremble in fear of hanging, and want to run from the white sow. I don’t know how she knows so much medical information or the minute details of Colonial dress and toilet, but it sure adds to the story. Her detail, rather than slowing down the flow, adds to and is an integral part of the plot. Tom Clancy’s and even J.R.R. Tolkien’s detail bogs me down at time, but not Diana’s or Frank Herbert’s. Good writers are like good painters. Every brushstroke takes you closer to the picture they want you to see.

Third, edit, rewrite, then edit and rewrite again. Listen to beta readers and critics. Comments that are from left field might safely be ignored, but if several readers have the same complaint, look closely at the issue. See what you can do to fix it. Though writing is considered a solitary task, it really isn’t. A writer, except perhaps for Emily Dickinson, doesn’t write for her or himself. A writer writes to communicate with readers. Richard mentions this in his address to a writing conference in Honor. If readers don’t understand what you have tried to tell them, don’t blame the readers. Try again.

In short, if you want to write a book, do it. Be prepared to give up time with friends, other hobbies and often, your sanity. But do it. Write, research, and edit. Over and over. You may write several books that never see publication—author Jodi Thomas call it your “under the bed” book—but you will learn more than a Master’s program in the writing of it. As a critic told me once, “keep at it and you’ll get there.” Even though that was back in the days of typewriters, it’s still good advice.


Joan Vincent said...

Good advice all. I still remember my under the bed book. You are right it taught many lessons.