February 23rd 2010
How I Know I’m a Writer
Sometimes posts are easier to write than others. There are times when a subject for a post presents itself with such force that it really does — pardon the cliché — write itself.
And then there are days like today.
It’s rainy and cold outside, I have some very nice jazz on the stereo (Brian Bromberg’s exquisite album, Wood), and really the only thing I want to do is work on my book.
It’s not that I’m at a particularly exciting part of my work-in-progress, or that I’ve been looking forward to writing this section of the book for a long time. Quite the opposite, actually. The book is a bit of a slog right now. I’m past the opening; I’m a long, long way from the climax. I’m dealing with a plotting issue right now; a knotted tangle of narrative threads that is driving me up a wall. In short, it’s something of a mess and it feels like work.
And still, it’s all I want to do.
I think this is something that some beginning writers, and lots of people who don’t write at all, don’t understand. I remember years ago, when the first generation of affordable laptop computers were first marketed, an ad appeared on TV talking about the convenience of having a portable computer. And one of the things that the ad said was that this would finally give people the freedom to write the Great American Novel, or some such nonsense. And it showed some guy in jeans and a flannel shirt sitting on a dock overlooking a placid mountain lake. He had his laptop and nothing else — no books, no papers. Nothing. It was just him and the scenery and the computer, and he was typing away. My wife and I thought it was the funniest thing we’d ever seen.
Writing a book is a little like maintaining a long-term romantic relationship. Early on, the excitement of beginning something new is intoxicating and consuming. Remaining committed at that stage is easy. It’s all you want to do. But when that early passion subsides a bit, you’re left with the work of keeping things moving, of overcoming problems and adjusting your expectations to new realities. That’s when the commitment becomes more challenging. That’s when the writer is separated from the pretender. This has nothing to do with getting published; it has everything to do with following through on a project and finishing it.
You have to love the process so much that you’re as willing to tackle the hours of research, the plot problems that make you want to scream, the days of rewrites, as you are the early chapters that flow so easily. Writing a novel isn’t about sitting on a dock and waiting for the muse to strike. It’s not about seeing your name on a book or a check, either, though those are very nice when they happen. Writing is about embracing the work. It’s about sitting down with pad and pen, or desktop and keyboard, or laptop and latte because it’s all you want to do, even when you know that the problems you encounter that day are going to make you nuts.
I have no doubt that my work today is going to suck a little bit. Not the actual writing; I think what I get written will read pretty well when I go back to check it later. But it’s going to be hard and frustrating and downright unpleasant at times. I’ll get up from my desk a hundred times to go check the laundry, or get a drink (non-alcoholic; I promise) or wander around the house cursing my characters and my story line at the top of my lungs. But every time I get up from my desk, I’ll come back to it, put my butt back in the chair, and write some more.
And I won’t do this because I’m virtuous, or because I have more discipline than someone else, or because I’m better at it than anyone. I’ll do it because I love it, because in spite of the cursing and the whining and the frustrations, it’s the only thing I want to do with my time. I like the challenge; I enjoy the slog. Weird, I know. But it’s days like these that make me feel like a writer.
Know what I mean? Yeah, I thought so. You’re a writer, too.
David B. Coe
David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.
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