Theophrastus Prospero firing his staff.
This week is a short one, and I do not have time to do justice to the next installment of Good vs. Evil, which is on writing about villains. So that will be next week. This week, I thought I would write a bit about being a writer.
One of the side effects of being a published writer is that one has achieved something others desire. People come up and express envy that I have reached the Horeb Heights of Authordom, while they are still farther down the slope, perhaps slogging through the marshes of revisions, or mired in the Swamps of Publishing Uncertainty. I laugh and express the desire that they will soon join me. Usually, they are satisfied.
Occasionally, however, the person merely expresses more envy. Then, I pull out the big guns. I explain how I came to be where I am. I tell them about the 17 years it took from the time I began my book until it came out; about the eight years I waited, once I had finished it; about going to conventions, year after year after year, and having to face, bookless, friends whose novels had already been published. That kind of thing.
About this time, most people realize that I did not get up to the published heights by catapult. Nor did I win some kind of get-published-quick lottery. Usually, that is sufficient to assure them that all is still right with the world.
Once in a while, however, this is not enough. The person’s envy is palpable. Perhaps, they say they have been trying to get published for even longer. At this point, I try to say something helpful or encouraging. Probably, I merely say something dumb. If they seem receptive, I say something about God.
But, sometimes, I wish I could say to them was I am really thinking. If I could, it would go something like this:
“Are you relentless?
Do you live, move, and breathe writing? Do you think about it during the day, while traveling, at night, at the movies, in the shower, while dropping two hundred feet in free fall at the amusement park? (Okay, maybe there you can have a brief respite, but get right back on it at the bottom!) Do you study how to put stories together? Do you analyze and take apart everything you read or watch?
Isaac Asimov recalled the last time he truly enjoyed a book. After that, no matter how much he liked it, some part of his mind was analyzing what he read, critiquing it. That does not happen to everyone, but it might.
Are you willing to risk it?
Sometimes, it is necessary to aim high to hit our mark. Are you aiming high? Are you shooting for the stars? For galaxies far, far away? Are you aiming higher than it is humanly possible to aim? Have you vowed unto God that, so long as He is on your side, you will dance with the masters or die trying?
Yes? Then, exactly who, in your mind, are these masters? Other folks who have been published? Top writers in your field? Best-selling authors?
Or, are you willing to stand, trembling, fists clenched, and vow to join the ranks of those who have endured the test of time: Tolstoy, Milton, Dante, Homer and their like…writers whose works are so excellent that readers still burn with the bliss and suffer the sorrow of their characters hundred or even thousands of years after they were originally written?
Are you willing to shoot for that?
Realistically, most of us will never reach such heights, of course. I have trouble believing people a hundred years from now will care much about the things most of us write. Even if they did, we would never know about it. But that is not the point.
The point is: Are you striving to do your best? To learn what makes a book Great? To put just a little bit more of whatever that is into your stories than you might have had you not tried quite so hard?
Are you undaunted?
Are you willing to examine every aspect of your writing? To question plot, description, dialogue, theme, grammar, all of it? At the same time, are you willing to hold firm to what you feel is right for your story, even if no one else seems to agree with you? Are you willing to let nothing stop you—not the opinions of others, not lack of material things, not ill health, not heat, cold, sleet or hail?
Are you willing to let your family go hungry? Or, if nothing that drastic is necessary, to go without extra shoes and sweaters, in order that you can pursue a career that offers no money up front whatsoever, and may never pay off? Are you willing to let your children mill around, unguided, while you sit at the computer pounding on the keys? Are you willing to forgo visits with friends? Free time? Sleep?
Do you pray? Do you listen with all your heart to God, or the Muses, or whomever you believe is inspiring you? Are you willing to honor that inspiration. To entirely unravel your current work, all three hundred and fifty pages, if it comes to you that you could make it better? Would you rather pull it, rewrite it, and make it shine, than just leave it because, well, it is done?
Are you mailing it out? (Or submitting it electronically?) Are you willing to put what you wrote in front of those who might buy it? Are you willing to send it out once its done, even if you could keep polishing it and polishing it? (Yes, this contradicts the paragraph above. Sometimes, one is required for excellence, sometimes the other.) Are you willing to send it out again? And again? And again? And again? And again?
I ask you, Fellow Writer, are you relentless?”
Yes, you say? Then it is just a matter of time.
Barring Acts of God, you will make it someday and stand with me, laughing joyfully as we look out from the authorly heights. It may be tomorrow. It may be two decades from now, but if you do not give up, if you do not compromise, you will arrive!
No, you say? Then, as yourself another question: How much do you want to be a writer?
Only so-so? Not willing to make the commitment? Don’t want writing to take over your life?
Well…you may still make it. Slowly plodding away is a virtue in its own right. But there is no guaranty.
If, on the other hand, you are burning to be a writer, then I say unto you, rise up! Be relentless! Call on God and vow your vows and seize the heavens in a grip you refuse to yield!
Because if you do, someday you, too, will reach these lofty heights. I have a chair all ready for you.