Writers have an abnormal predilection for planting themselves in a chair – alone – surrounded by nothing – and wait for the words to rain. It just ain’t natural.
The 24th GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ come and gone, this is the time I take a few days to reflect on what I’ve learned, what I’ve heard before, and why the hell I’m still writing.
Our keynote speaker and headliner this year was NYT Bestseller, Bob Mayer, a former Green Beret who wrote the Area 51 series, as well as 70 other titles in fiction and non-fiction. That’s me on the right (as if you couldn’t tell).
We spent a full day with Bob, listening to his advice on the standard elements of plot, story structure, character, the importance of tight narrative, and dangers of going off on tangents that don’t move the story. Anyone who has read my article from last year, ‘The Perils of Captain Tangent – a Pantser’s Writing Journey’, knows I have an issue with side stories that end nowhere.
It was the Day 2 of the conference that struck a chord with me. Bob Mayer spoke about ‘Write it Forward’, with lessons he learned in the military. He gave the classic pitch, “everyone stand up, look at the person on the right, then look at the one on the left. Only one of you is going to make it.” He reminded us that only five-percent of all writers ever finish a book, that five-percent get to the point of publishing the book, and five percent of those people ever get anywhere with it. In simpler terms, earning enough to buy a case of Yuengling beer is like winning the lottery.
For those writers who’d never heard it before, you could see the eagerness visibly drain from their faces. Reality bites.
For me, the message I took away had less to do with sobering statistics I already knew, or the writing process I’ve been refining for years.
“Why are you writing, and what’s your goal?” Bob asked.
He followed it up with, “how passionate are you about what you’re doing?”
Growing up, I had an imagination fueled on nuclear ether. I tried to harness the chaos of that imagination by penning it on paper. An hour later, finger cramps set in (I can be a bit intense when gripping a pen). I got a D+ in high school typing class, my fingers unable to master a typewriter without buckets of whiteout and erasable bond paper. It would take access to a modern word processor, and the ability to backspace and delete with impunity, before I struck up the nerve to start writing again years later.
Thirty-plus years traveling for corporate America offered ample opportunities on flights, waiting for flights, and hotel rooms. I wrote stuff. While living overseas, I got a non-paid gig writing articles for a local travel magazine. It was fun. I actually had a small fan base. When I repatriated, I asked myself the same question Bob did – what do I want to be, besides thirty-years younger? I read a book on the subject of rebooting life. It asked tough questions like, what gave me passion in the younger years, before I put down childish things. What was it I dreamt of as a kid?
I’m happiest when I tap into the chaotic ether of my imagination and put words to it.
The stories came easy, but understanding the mechanics of plotting and structure was a different breed of cat. I can quote the basic laws of chemistry, but dangling participles was something I learned on the fly. My first 300-page attempt was a laughable exercise that simultaneously encouraged (I am a writer, I am, I am, I am), and depressed me (Dear Occupant, thank you for your submission, but …). Not having a pedigree that comes with a Fine Arts education, I had a steep hill to climb.
The journey took me on a rediscovery of subjects I’d glossed over in secondary school, like grammar. The proper use of commas was enough to send me to the nut house. Thankfully, Word spell check kept me from giving up entirely. I networked with authors, joined writer groups, and went to conferences to learn about the business of getting published. Surviving a critique process from fellow writers is not for the weak-hearted.
Rejection by the hundreds required the skin of a stegosaurus. With the prolificacy of traditional publishing, and indie publishing (an unending tsunami of content in Bob’s words), being published today is akin to the lone salmon going downstream against the horny hoards during spawning season.
Bob reconfirmed what I had to discover for myself a few years ago, “old dogs must learn new tricks”. Exhuming a passion, buried for decades in a lead-lined box of adult obligations, can be one of the hardest things in a person’s life. It felt good to hear a professional like Bob Mayer corroborate what I had to learn on my own.
It takes Passion.
It takes Perseverance.
It takes Risks
So why haven’t I published yet? A wonderful agent tried to market two books I wrote a couple years back, but no takers. It amazes that me she still answers my emails after those first attempts.
Her advice to me – keep writing.
Don’t have to ask me twice. Hell, I can’t help myself. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. I lost count how many times my wife caught me pacing a room with a blank look, lost in the sparkles of the kaleidoscopic pandemonium of my imagination.
I just finished my sixth novel. Given the commentary from trusted beta readers, I still have some work to do. It ain’t because the story sucks. It’s about making it as good as it needs to be.
But I’m getting closer.
I’ll end it here. I have a story to correct. Got to make my own rain.
Oh, and the hyperactive muse who won’t let me sleep at night, is egging me to start a new idea.
Hmmm – wonder if I can do both at the same time?