Writing, Whine, and Cheese

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June 1, 2010 by David Gillaspie

Are you a writer?  Do you want to be a writer?  Doesn’t everyone?

Some say, “When I retire I’ll write my book.”

Others say, “I have a great idea for a book, but I don’t know how to write it.”

Still others say, “I’d write if I had the time.”

Which one are you?  Three choices, pick one.  Here, I’ll help.

“When I retire I’ll write my book” means you will put pen to paper once the statute of limitations runs out.  It means the tide of bitterness welling up inside you needs to ebb before you get a clear view of your subject.

But your subject is bitterness.  Do you see the problem?  The iron is hot, so strike it sooner than later.  We all enjoy a tale of bitterness tinged with humor.  The more bitter, the more laughs, right?

Except for the soul-eating bitterness that clamps on and never lets go.  Once you get that you’ll never write a book.  Bitterness is funny; hate isn’t.  Hate will kill you before you retire to that writing chair.  You won’t know it, but that tender spot in your heart turns to stone with hate. 

The hate book isn’t on any reading club’s list.

“I have a great idea for a book, but I don’t know how to write it” means you’ll listen to anyone explain the writing process.  You’ll pay lots of money to learn ‘the secret.’  Later you’ll learn most of your gurus don’t know how to write any more than you do, but they do know how to sell. 

And you are the buyer they’re looking for.

Keep your wallet in your pocket and start here: What is the biggest event in your book?  If you’re writing a family drama it’s usually a birth, a death, or a road trip.  What makes the event in your book stand out from the billions of births and deaths and road trips throughout history?  It’s one word….

Context.

The greatest birth story is the re-birth story.  The greatest death story is the re-birth story.  The greatest road trip story is the path taken from birth to death to rebirth. 

If this sounds too biblical, relax.  Think metaphor.  Think of old bitter jackass goes through a near-death experience to emerge as a kind person and his transformation changes the world around him.

You get the idea, now get to work.

“I’d write if I had the time” means you don’t really want to write.  Instead you want a nice yard and clean house.  You want good clothes and a car that works.  You want to be the adult you are with the associated trappings.

This isn’t to say you need to live in a hell-hole scratching out poetry with your own blood on tissue paper until you pass out from malnutrition.  It doesn’t mean you neglect those who care about you because they don’t understand your compulsion. 

Making time to write doesn’t mean going insane and killing yourself for your art, so put that drama queen notion aside.

Making time to write means just that.  Fit it into your life.  Put it right up there with the other needs you fulfill everyday, the food, the shelter, the clothing, the writing. 

The more you write, the better you get at it.  The better you get, the more attention your writing draws.  The more attention your writing draws, the less time you have to write because you’re out promoting your writing instead of writing.  That’s the hoop you want to jump through, the problem you want to solve.

A writer worries about being a hack.  They worry about copyright and theft.  A writer digs into their own being and tries to make sense of what they find.  If they find an excuse not to write, they whine.  If they are successful writers with an excuse not to write anything new, they still get the cheese.

What is your excuse?  You say you don’t have one?  That means you’re either a writer writing, or you’re not a writer.

Flannery O’Connor says, “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers.  My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.  There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

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