On Becoming an Author – Part One: The Struggle
Back when I was in college, if I had difficulty with a mathematical proof, I would ask an upper classman for help. Invariably their answer would be, “That’s trivial!” Of course it was trivial for them; they had already put in the time and struggle to learn the material.
Writing is like that. It is simple for me to write down a story. I either define some characters or a struggle of some type which I populate with characters and story lines pop into my head and I write them down. If I’ve defined the characters carefully enough, the writing process will consist of the characters telling me the story. Once that’s done the hard work begins. I truly agonize over every word. I’ve had many occasions where I’ve re-edited a single sentence fifteen or twenty times. My fourth novel went through 15 iterations BEFORE I sent it to my editor. I’ve removed so many carefully crafted stories, (even entire chapters!) that didn’t precisely fit the story line, I’m attempted to turn out a book of short stories which would be filled with the chapters or subplots that didn’t make it into my novels!
I’m also mystified by authors who tell me they write from outlines. I attended a seminar on writing a synopsis and the presenter said she writes the synopsis before she writes the novel and uses it as an outline. My writing process is completely serendipitous.
My current project is a novel (book 5 of the “Meant to Be” series) which starts in 1834 in Cork, Ireland and ends a few years later in Independence, Missouri at the gateway to the Oregon Trail. That previous sentence was my “outline” as I began writing. I certainly didn’t know I would be writing a mostly humorous scene of a birth with a six year old girl helping her Mother deliver a baby! The Native American woman and French trapper who meet on a mountain top near present day Chelan, Washington, weren’t any part of my story until I had many other characters and their stories on paper. Their story entered my imagination when I needed a character to teach a five year old how to throw a spear! That five year old character inspired such a vivid story of a romance when he became an adult, I wrote and polished his romantic adventure even though it won’t be used until my seventh book which I plan to start six months from now.
So, is writing “trivial?” Thinking of a story is trivial. Turning it into a finished product that someone else would like to read is not. It is always a struggle; an “every word on the page must be analyzed” type of struggle. I work ten hour days on average. I usually try to take one day a week away from writing but usually write at least a half day on my so-called day off. Since I’ve become an author, I’m astounded how many people have told me that they have an idea for a great book but haven’t gotten around to writing it. I have a feeling they don’t want to deal with the struggle part of becoming an author.
Like any other profession, it takes hard work to learn this craft and hard work to transform a story line into excellent work.
Part Two of this blog series will be entitled, Criticism: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and the Utterly Worthless.
Part Three will be entitled, Why Write?