On Becoming an Author – Part One: The Struggle

writing blog, authorBack when I was in college, if I had difficulty with a mathematical proof, I would ask an upper classman for help. Invariably their answer would be, “That’s trivial!” Of course it was trivial for them; they had already put in the time and struggle to learn the material.

Writing is like that. It is simple for me to write down a story.  I either define some characters or a struggle of some type which I populate with characters and story lines pop into my head and I write them down. If I’ve defined the characters carefully enough, the writing process will consist of the characters telling me the story. Once that’s done the hard work begins. I truly agonize over every word. I’ve had many occasions where I’ve re-edited a single sentence fifteen or twenty times. My fourth novel went through 15 iterations BEFORE I sent it to my editor. I’ve removed so many carefully crafted stories, (even entire chapters!) that didn’t precisely fit the story line, I’m attempted to turn out a book of short stories which would be filled with the chapters or subplots that didn’t make it into my novels!

story outline, writing, author

I’m also mystified by authors who tell me they write from outlines. I attended a seminar on writing a synopsis and the presenter said she writes the synopsis before she writes the novel and uses it as an outline. My writing process is completely serendipitous.writing checklist, story outline, author

My current project is a novel (book 5 of the “Meant to Be” series) which starts in 1834 in Cork, Ireland and ends a few years later in Independence, Missouri at the gateway to the Oregon Trail. That previous sentence was my “outline” as I began writing. I certainly didn’t know I would be writing a mostly humorous scene of a birth with a six year old girl helping her Mother deliver a baby! The Native American woman and French trapper who meet on a mountain top near present day Chelan, Washington, weren’t any part of my story until I had many other characters and their stories on paper. Their story entered my imagination when I needed a character to teach a five year old how to throw a spear! That five year old character inspired such a vivid story of a romance when he became an adult, I wrote and polished his romantic adventure even though it won’t be used until my seventh book which I plan to start six months from now.writing outline, story outline, author

So, is writing “trivial?” Thinking of a story is trivial.  Turning it into a finished product that someone else would like to read is not. It is always a struggle; an “every word on the page must be analyzed” type of struggle. I work ten hour days on average. I usually try to take one day a week away from writing but usually write at least a half day on my so-called day off. Since I’ve become an author, I’m astounded how many people have told me that they have an idea for a great book but haven’t gotten around to writing it. I have a feeling they don’t want to deal with the struggle part of becoming an author.

Like any other profession, it takes hard work to learn this craft and hard work to transform a story line into excellent work.

frustrated author, writing outline, storyline

Part Two of this blog series will be entitled, Criticism: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and the Utterly Worthless.

Part Three will be entitled, Why Write?


17 thoughts on “On Becoming an Author – Part One: The Struggle

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  4. Morgan Shamy says:

    Goodness. Great post, Richard. It *is* a struggle to be an author–and I don’t doubt that numerous people have amazing ideas. But really, it’s a rare bunch who really dedicate themselves the way they need to in order to succeed. Each word does matter. And as far as outlines, I’m not a fan! It takes away the magic for me!

    And THANK YOU for your book recommendation. I just bought it! I appreciate you reaching out. Emotion is something I’m struggling with right now and I’m determined to fix it. 🙂

  5. Joe Orozco says:

    Excellent post. I used to write off the cuff and always found myself leaving a project before it could be finished. Now I’m using an outline, and it is elaborate enough to help me remember the ideas that popped into my head at 3:00 AM but loose enough to shift items as the writing takes shape. The biggest advantage for me is character development. I can better track my characters’ behaviors and immediately spot inconsistencies. Thanks for the reminder about our commitment to writing. If you have a book idea, get it out there!

    • Consistency in your character development is critical. I’m glad outlining works for you. I understand those middle of the night inspirations. My wife could tell you I often get up at 3:00 am because an idea has come to me. I usually end up going downstairs to my home office and writing for several hours.

  6. jmato012 says:

    I wonder is doing an outline that helpful before writing the story? I am still a new writer so I’m trying to find the best technique so I’d like to know the pros and cons. Currently I’m working on a play, and it’s clear in my mind what is the conflict, characters, and pretty much what is going to happen but not every detail, which apparently is the hardest part to do.
    I’ve tried doing outlines but it hasn’t been very helpful to me.

    Any feedback is appreciated .

  7. Kaykay Obi says:

    Recently, I started doing a little outline before I begin any project. I know what’s going to happen at the ending. But once I start with the story, I let my characters lead me. Feels good that way.

    I came across your site on ‘Goodreads Simply Sensational Coffee Group’ and I’m following now via email. I’d appreciate a follow back @ theartistcreativeforum.blogspot.com I blog writing and books.

  8. It’s definitely much more fun not to plan too much. I’m planning to plan more for my next novel, but not to the extent that I kill the buzz of the unexpected. I love it when the story surprises me.

  9. I write plot notes and save a second copy of the document, then begin writing the story in that, deleting the notes as I go. I find I waste less time and my story is better if I have some kind of guide. That doesn’t mean I can’t make changes, though. Scenes often take on a life of their own and alter the story.

    With my latest WIP, I actually made plot cards Save-The-Cat style. (http://melissamaygrove.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-plot-thickens.html) It was a great exercise, and, surprisingly, I haven’t veered very far from them. The best part was that it it showed me I had a natural plotting ability, and that was a needed boost to my writer’s self-esteem.

    • Melissa, Thanks for sharing your blog post. Beat sheets and plot cards are great tools to use. Each writer needs to find the method that works best for them. It may take a lot of trial and error, but the struggle is worth it to move from writer-wannabe to writer. You have done a great job accomplishing that goal.

  10. Thanks, Frederick. It’s great to hear from someone who enjoys writing the same way I do. Happy writing!

  11. I seem to write by the same rules: for me the idea of preparing an outline of a story would strip all life and meaning from it. My characters lead me through the plot in their own way – even if that does mean going back over passage after passage to eliminate conflicts before it goes for publication. The joy of writing is in finding out.

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