Wednesday, January 24, 2018

On Writing

I have a LinkedIn page.  If you're on Linkedin, you already know this, but if not, it's supposed to be a networking tool.  Social media for professional use.  On it, I have myself listed not as a project manager with a degree in Chemical Engineering, but as a writer.  *shrugs* 

I figured I could use it as sort of a starting point for freelance work.  I do that from time to time (Healthline, Childswork, etc) so I figured I'd create a writer's professional page.  But...

I don't think of myself as a writer.  Maybe a blogger.  But not a writer.  Writers write novels!  I blog, sure, but...I've always wanted to be a writer.

I was on twitter the other day and saw a link to a podcast about a writer talking about the writing process.  I started listening and found it really entertaining, but the reason I'm bringing it up is not because I think you should listen to it (although go ahead and's called "Launch") but because the headline eye-grabber said something like 3/5 people want to write a book, but most don't make it past the first chapter.  This...seemed rightish.

And I guess I am firmly in the 3/5 camp, I also "most"?  I hope not. (also...hope I am not moist, if you misread that too, I am not moist)

I decided to write this post this morning.  It's been sort of in the back of my mind for years.  What makes a writer?  I've read so many quotes from writers about what makes them write, or what it takes to be a writer, and like anything the opinions vary widely.  So I guess I'm writing this not so much to explain (as someone who doesn't consider himself a writer) what a writer is, but to help myself understand whether I can/should be one of the "not most" who makes it past the first chapter. (If you keep reading most as moist because of the sentence in the previous paragraph then you're not alone.  I sorta wish I'd never typed that part.)

So the first questions I asked myself are the absolute easiest ones:

1)  Do I possess the ability to write
2)  Do I possess the desire to write
3)  Do I have a story to tell

And I think writing stems from that.  Maybe there's more to it.  But I think you can break it down to those things.

The Ability to Write:

I'm not talking about being literate.  I mean, I sort of am, but I'm sort of not.  Can I write?  Can I put together sentences in an interesting way that readers might enjoy? 

There's a whole rabbit hole there... "readers might enjoy" that I'll discuss a little bit in the second heading, but I think I have the ability to write.  I've written this blog for years.  I get great feedback on my writing.  I feel like I have a definitive voice that is recognizable and genuine.  In short:  I think I have the ability to write.

I'm aware I have a SHIT ton of bad habits, not the least of which is using phrases like shit ton, or capitalizing entire words for emphasis, or using the hell out of ellipsis.  But I guess my hope is that if I were able to put together a decent enough manuscript, written and rewritten until it makes sense, an editor could help me do away with the excessive/unnecessary punctuation, and help me make a good thing better.

The Desire to Write: 

Here's that rabbit hole I was talking about.  I don't know what motivates a 'good writer' or just a writer in general.  I don't know that it should be "what readers might enjoy" as I said above.  I do think that to consider the idea you may want to write and get paid, you have to consider whether or not readers will enjoy it. 

I can certainly understand the idea that you might be motivated strictly by the story, or the process of writing, or self discovery, or whatever; that things like "what OTHERS think" should be an afterthought and that you should be writing because it's what YOU want to do.  And yeah...I think all of that makes sense.  If there's a story you need to tell...then tell it.  And don't worry about whether readers will like it because it's about something YOU need.  But my point here is...I think motivation to write can come from all over the place.  Lots of angles.  Lots of sources.

I was listening to "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card.  At the end of the audiobook he has a monologue where he discusses how the book came to be.  He references another author's quote that I tried really really hard to find before I wrote this post.  But I couldn't.  The gist of the quote was that authors decide to publish books for two reasons (I don't necessarily agree with this entirely, but I totally get the idea):  1 - because they've read a book by someone and they think, If he/she can do it, I can certainly do it.  Basically, the book is not great and you think...jesus, *I* should be writing.  Or 2 - because they've read a book by someone and you're inspired to write just by reading them.

I can cop to both of those feelings, and while I think there's at least one more...3 - because there's a story they need to tell.  That one doesn't stem so much from a third party's work, but from within.

I have all of this.  The beauty of me breaking this into very basic items is that if it turns out in 10 years that Jim Walter never wrote a book, I can STILL be right about the premises stated by throwing myself on the argument that in hindsight I guess I did not possess a TRUE desire to write, or perhaps I didn't ACTUALLY have the ability.  Or maybe there really WASN'T a story I needed to tell.

And if we're being honest, I'm not positive you NEED to have a story to tell as long as you can come up with one in your process.

A Story to Tell 

 For years this blog has been my "story to tell".  The story of my family has been one that I've loved.  Even the bad stuff has been cathartic to write about.  Is that the story I'd want to tell in a book?

I always fantasized about being an author who wrote the sorts of things I read.  I read mostly fantasy/sci-fi as a kid, and it's still a pretty heavy percentage of my literary diet.  I wrote a couple things on a lark.  Fictiony things.  I'm not good at it.  I think it's one of those things that gets better the more you do it, but I reread the fiction that I write and think...this isn't me.  It's hard for me to find my voice when I'm writing fiction.  Maybe my voice doesn't lend itself to fiction.  I have bandied about the idea that if I wrote fiction, I would write it in first person, because my voice DOES lend itself to a more laid back, casual, profane sort of first person narrative.

I think I have stories to tell.  I feel like the blog itself is proof that I have stories to tell, and I just have to know whether those are the sorts of stories I want to write something larger about...or if I REALLY want to make them up. I most?  Until I write a book, I guess I am.  I'm 3/5 people who want to write a book but can't make it past the first chapter.  Until I'm not. 

Getting Down to Business

If I fill in all the checkmarks above, what's stopping me from making it past that first chapter?  I'm just thinking "out loud" at this point.  I've written a rough outline.  I've started what I want to write.  I was excited because I had a few pages under my belt before I quit for the evening.  And...that was a week ago.

There are a lot of really good reasons why I haven't returned to what I've written.  Some of them are valid.  Some...not as valid.

I'm busy.  If you've read this blog, you know I'm busy.  You know why I'm busy.  You know that it's not the sort of busy you can excuse yourself from.  This is family.  This is single parenting.  This is life.  I have a full time job.  It pays the bills.  Writing will only ever be something I wished I had more time to do until I am no longer working full time.  Quitting my job to be a writer isn't where I am right now in life.

Sometimes at night I choose "sleep" over writing because I've gotten so little of it, and honestly, how can you write if you're falling asleep as you type anyway?

But apart from the need to sleep and work and parent...and stay fit etc etc...there's the procrastination.

The irony of avoiding writing a book by writing a post about why I want to write a book is not lost on me, I assure you.  It is the ultimate irony.  I'm a procrastinator.  Deadlines are the carrot on the stick that moves my donkey cart.  And there's always tomorrow.  I'll start tomorrow.

I can't remember what author said this either, but I read an author that said "write every day".  A lot of authors have said that, but this one specifically said...just write your book.  Don't character develop.  Don't world build.  Don't draw maps.  Don't look for an agent.  Don't brainstorm cover art.  Just write.

I consider looking for an agent.  This is me procrastinating writing.  What would I pitch to the agent?  I haven't written anything yet?  I consider writing a blog post about writing a book.  Why not just write in the book?  I need a new carrot.

Self discipline is the problem.  THAT is what is holding me back.  Me.  If I am to prove to myself that I truly have the "desire to write" then I have to get busy and just do it.  Maybe a little procrastination long enough to set goals and rewards for myself.  But then just get down to business.

I have a goal in mind.  I will write a book.  This book does not need to "appeal to the masses".  This goal book is just to prove to myself that I have it in me to complete a book.  The end goal at some point may be to get a book published.  But right now the goal I'm looking at is "write a book".  A good book, Jim?  A book.  A publishable book?  Just a book.  A long book?  I fucking said just a  book, okay??

Anyway, that's where my head is. 
Short term goal:  I will write every day (when I'm able)
Long term goal:  I will write a book
Longer term goal:  I will publish a book (self publish even)
Longer Longer term (this is how writers talk I'll bet) goal:  Get a book published
Longest Bestest term Goaliest Goal:  Make millions writing books


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