I am Writer, Hear me…tap the keyboard really hard.

It’s no secret that I am less than enthusiastic about self publishing, although let me say, before the self published folks get bent out of shape and begin sending nasty comments and emails to The Edge, I do not think that all self published books are crap. There are authors who I’m friends with and others I’ve simply read who have published very good books that were edited, well written and who bust their asses in order to sell said books.

Sadly, those authors are not easy to find. Few and far between, as the saying goes. This post is not really about self publishing, but the ability to publish anything nowadays does play a role so of course, self publishing does sort of affect my feelings at the moment. I felt the need to get the whole issue out of the way before I get to the meat of this post, which is writing.

Recently while I was out and about, I met a woman with whom I’m familiar but not really friendly. In a small town like Tweed there are many people like this. You know them, their family and most of their secrets; true and made up, but you aren’t really friends. Anyway, she asked how my ‘writing’ was going. I said, “Good.” And then I made to go on my merry way.

But of course, she wasn’t finished. “So, do you even work at all now?”

I blinked, choked down the scathing retort about how she had never worked a day in her worthless life so the judgemental tone she used was really unwarranted and I smiled. “Actually,” I said, “I freelance for a few online sites and I still write fiction.”

She gave that knowing look. You know the one. It says sure you do, and I’m the Queen of England. Then she said, “Yeah, I thought about publishing a book this year too. Since the kids are in school I have the time.”

Really? “Do you know anything about writing or publishing?” I asked.

“No, but neither do you. How hard can it be? It’s not like you’re overly creative or anything, you know?”

No, you self righteous, arrogant, know-nothing bitch. I do not know. Of course, me being the polite and likable person that I am, I didn’t say that. I said simply, “Good luck.”

This is what gets me about ‘writers’ (and I use the term loosely) I’ve come across since I began writing to publish. Sounds like such an easy thing, eh? Just decide you want to be a writer and viola! You’re published. Well, no. It’s not so easy and having people like that, and people in the writing groups treating writing as a ‘hobby’ or something that anyone can do, as though the amount of work and tears and time I’ve put into what I write (that all serious writers put into their work) are needless and trivial, really pisses me off.

Writing is work. Okay? Writers, are you paying attention? It shouldn’t be easy and it shouldn’t be something you just ‘do’. If you hope to publish anything worth reading, (note the keywords WORTH READING) it’s not as simple as writing a story. You have to study, grow, learn, experiment, sacrifice, and spend hours honing your style and voice. You have to build a ‘presence’ in order to market your work later, and you have to have enough backbone and self confidence and drive to endure rejection like you’ve never experienced in your life. Daily. I’m not exaggerating.

I’ve worked day and night, without a break or a day off, received rejection after rejection, for more than two years to get to the point I’m at today. Now two or three years is not a long time, when I say that I spent that time learning, I don’t mean an hour here and there. I mean constantly working at it. That’s on top of writing from the day I could spell more than a few words, and reading everything I could get my hands on. You do learn some of this craft through osmosis, but how to apply what you know to be good to your own writing is not so easy.

Here’s an excerpt from an early draft of the first manuscript I wrote:

Her stomach rumbled and she rummaged through the purse for the chocolate bars she’d picked up earlier in her trip. Audrina dumped everything out and looked again. She found some old gum, two chewed pens, a chapstick with mystery gunk on it, and the spare keys she’d searched for last week, but no chocolate.

“I know I bought them, where the heck did I put them?” she murmured.

Then she remembered. They were on the counter at the gas station, hours back when she turned off the highway.

Oh my…so painful. And I thought this was good at the time. Submitted it to publishers even. Gasp! I didn’t! Oh yes, I did. But they said “Um, no.” So I struggled, cried, bashed my head on hard surfaces and finally admitted that this was crap. The story, the characters, all of it. Crap. This manuscript may never see the light of day and while I loathe to read the telling prose, the choppy, tag filled dialogue and the too hard to believe plot, this manuscript means the world to me. More than any other I’ve written. Why? It shows how far I’ve come and how much the hard work and head bashing have paid off.

Here’s the difference in my writing today, an excerpt from a draft of the most recent manuscript I’ve finished:

He started the truck thinking about Kristina as he pulled away from the curb and headed toward Louisa Street. The longing in her gaze nearly undid his self-control, but the naked fear that dominated her being made him wary. It would have been easy to take advantage of her tonight; she desperately wanted to feel safe and loved. The shudder that wracked her body and the haunted look when he pulled away, told him she couldn’t quite separate Daniel from her thoughts. Things were complicated enough without trying to get around her irrational loyalty to that idiot.

There’s room for improvement, yes, but anyone who knows what they’re looking for can see the growth in that passage. The difference in what I’m able to write now compared to then makes me proud of the work I’ve done and angry at anyone who assumes they can put whatever they want on paper with no effort at all.

Writing is work, people. Hard work. Lonely work. Depressing sometimes, but it’s the most satisfying and rewarding work I’ve ever done. Just because you can spell, can string words together into a sentence and format a story with beginning, middle, and end does not make you a writer.

So to the people like the idiot who talked to me on the street the other day, who believe that writing is easy and that anyone can do it, the ones who waste my time by putting shit on the bookshelves that is really useful for lining birdcages and such and join writing groups to make pithy comments about how their characters are so awesome and they are so getting published by the end of the year so they can move on to their next goal of lion taming because anyone with a stick can do that too, to those who criticize and make fun of those of us who refuse to submit anything but our best to publishers and agents, and who don’t think that ‘writer’ means anything more than someone who can reasonably tell a story; Good luck.

Ha! You all thought I’d tell them to fuck off. See? Growth. Maturity. That’s me.

17 thoughts on “I am Writer, Hear me…tap the keyboard really hard.

  1. I've heard, more than once, that artists have the same problem. "Why, my six-year-old could do something just as good." Your village neighbor seems to have been blessed with an abundance of gall. I probably would have responded as you did, but would have preferred to give her a knuckle sandwich.Like you, I learned a lot through osmosis, but getting down to practicing what you've learned is damned hard. I do plan to epublish, and I'm fully aware how hard it will be to rise above the tons of crap. But if there's anything of importance that writing can teach, it's persistence.

  2. Reading good writers is one of the best ways to understand what makes a book good and what doesn't. The same can be said for reading bad writers. You're right, a lot can be learned through osmosis and you seem to have a good grasp of the work involved in self publishing, which will make a huge difference in the success of your work. And the neighbor, 30 years of living in a small town has taught me that knuckle sandwiches when given where deserved, tend to multiply in frequency and necessity. I need to keep these knuckles pretty for my writing. 🙂

  3. I so want to know who the c-word was that said that. Would you tell me in person so that I can give her dirty looks on the sly?And I would totally want to read the second book just from being interested in that excerpt!

  4. Because I know your excellent taste in books, Ms. Twills, I am flattered and ecstatic that you like my little paragraph. Perhaps when I'm through final edits, you can read it. It's based in Tweed…fictional Tweed, but you'll see the similarities. I might put that c-word in the next book. She'll be the first victim. 🙂

  5. I usually smile politely, offer a soothing word of encouragement or two, then walk away with the knowledge that in all likelihood they will never get past "Once Upon A Time." If they do write it, I know I'll hear all about "the nerve of those people" who rejected their "Masterpiece."Again, I'll smile, offer a soothing word or two, then walk away… smiling.

  6. Great post, Renee. You have what every writer needs, a strong voice. Ref how easy it is to be published – it helps if you'r a celebrity – or better still a minor Royal. Has anyone ever read Sarah Ferguson's children's books? No matter. In this case product placement trumps all.

  7. A strong voice? I like that much better than, "You know, you sure got a big mouth." Don't celebrities hire ghost writers or something? Yeah, if you're a celebrity you really can just say "Oh, I think I'll publish a book today. Monkey, get on that." Monkey is the assistant, btw. I plan to have one of those someday and I will rename them Monkey because I can.

  8. There's another set of "writers" who annoy me. They are the ones who whine: "I have a story, but I just don't know where to start. I guess I'm just too much of a perfectionist." I didn't know where to start either. I just jumped in with both feet and plowed my way through. When I discovered I didn't know something, I found a way to learn it. Hard work. Study. Late nights. Lots of reading. Lots of interacting with people. Blogging. Marketing. Studying. Writing. That's been my life for 3 years. Sometimes, I worry that I've wasted my time these last few years. But when I have decided its time to quit, the rest of me kept on trying.

  9. Oh yes, the "I'm too….." to write. The blank might be filled in with 'busy', 'tired', 'perfect' or any other sort of excuse word. If you are a writer, you write, whether that means five minutes here and there or giving up your favorite show, sometimes I've sacrificed a shower to get something done. Kurt is not pleased with that. And Rita, don't ever think you've wasted your time. The writer I read today in your work compared to just a year ago is a much improved, more mature, and absolutely awesome writer. Nothing wasted at all.

  10. I have to say, you were a lot more tactful than I ever would have been (I guess it's that "maturity" thing I've heard so much about). And I certainly don't think you're wasting your time. Or that it's easy!

  11. I beg to differ slightly. I think two things go into making a good writer. One is the ability to create a story that grips, thrills, excites, amuses or brings tears to the eyes. This is, I think, something you either have or don't have, like blue eyes. If you have it, it makes writing a stry or a novel easy.The second is the craft applied to the basic story – the varnish, if you like. This can be learned by practice and hard work. It's what turns the easy story into a good story. Even a great story.Good writers need both parts. All the craft in the world can't make up for a crap story. Similarly, a good story can be ruined by a lack of craft.So there you have it. It's easy. It's hard. It's as natural as breathing. It can only be learned through years of disciplined study.Like everything else in writing, even the nature of the beast is contradictory.

  12. Well hello, Paul. Glad to see you and yes, it is all that and requires all that and it is very contradictory. But we can agree you need innate ability, some indefinable quality that can't be described and craft. The measure of each that you need, I don't know for sure. But I hope I'm getting close to the right mix.

  13. I so agree Renee, and boy have I come a long way since that first draft of that first novel. Not far enough yet though, but so nearly close. After a few rejections from publishers, my agent has suggested another perk up/rewrite of Lethal Inheritance. It was good, now she wants it to be outstanding. She says that a few years ago it would have been snapped up, but with the business having tough times at the moment, the bar is higher. I have to rise to meet it.You know as well as I, it's going to be plain hard work. Staring at each sentence and asking how can I say that better?

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