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?

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

New Year Clock

As I complete my third year as an author of fictional accounts of a family’s saga, I want to take a moment to thank some of the people who have helped me develop this career.

None of this would have been possible without the encouragement and hard work of my wife and partner, Carolynn.  She creates the covers, listens carefully to my ideas, does the marketing, and provides a sounding board for the stories within the main story that are so crucial to my novels.  She’s the one who finds writer’s conferences for me, scans websites for writing tools and books, and still finds time to make a nutritious and delicious dinner for us each evening and a proper beginning to the Sabbath each Friday night. As we approach our golden years, nothing elevates my spirit more than the knowledge that she is my life partner. Firecrackers In The Sky - Sunset

My editor, Lisa Martinez, provides thoughtful criticism and crucial feedback as she edits my work. Much more than providing grammatical corrections, Lisa has insight into my writing style that helps bring a sense of realism and continuity to the situations that my characters find themselves in.  Much of the readability of my novels is due to her input.

I also would like to thank all the authors who took the time to write about their craft. The knowledge gained from two books in particular, have provided a solid foundation for my writing efforts. Steven King’s book “On Writing,” recommended by my son David, and Sol Stein’s book “Stein on Writing.” King’s book taught me that my creative process wasn’t as unique as I had imagined.  Stein’s book, among many other concepts, demonstrated that the non-fiction I had written during my firmware programming days wasn’t that far from my present day fiction writing as I had imagined. Those books are worth far more than their cost. In addition, I have found “The Emotion Thesaurus” by Ackerman and Puglist a fine addition to my writing tool chest.

I wish you all a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year and Great Reading in 2013.

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Locked Down at WIWA Retreat

Two weekends ago I attended a writers’ lockdown retreat sponsored by the Whidbey Island Writer’s Association (WIWA).  It was held at the Captain Whidbey’s Inn on Penn Cove in Washington.  Typical for fall in the Pacific Northwest, the air was filled with mist and the ground was covered with a cacophony of colored leaves.  The cool, damp wind, made the historic lodge appear warm and welcoming.  It was a perfect weekend to spend locked down in a rustic lodge on a beautiful lagoon with twenty-two other writers.  A great blue heron watched as I made my way to my room facing the lagoon.

Lagoon View from My Room

I had never been to a writer’s retreat or conference and had no idea what to expect. My concerns ran from the cost (would it be worth the time and money) to wondering if the “experts” would think I couldn’t write.  The twenty-three inmates gathered in the tavern at the beginning of the lockdown.  While enjoying drinks and finger food the wardens provided the rules of our captivity and reviewed the schedule of activities.  Nervously we introduced ourselves to each other.  I could tell my trepidations were shared by most.  It came as a relief that two writers had voluntarily returned to be locked up for a second time.  The camaraderie warmed me as much as the fire roaring in the lodge’s stone hearth.

The Lodge Tavern

Lobby Fireplace

The coach/mentors were Bharti Kirchner, Terry Persun, and Stephanie Kallos. (Click on their names to link to their websites.)   Not only are they each extremely talented, they were generous with their time, advice, teachings, motivations, and encouragement.  The weekend was structured to provide plenty of workshops (with specific topics), salons (for group discussions on any writing topic of interest), and time to write, write, and write some more.  The tranquil environment, complete with its isolation was perfect.  No phones, television, or internet interrupted the peaceful atmosphere of creative minds soaring.

Lodge Lobby – A Great Place to Read!

Prior to the retreat we each submitted a writing sample which was reviewed by our assigned mentors.  On the last day each participant received a one-on-one critique. For some, the experience aided them in moving from “writer wanna-be” to “author”.  Most left with the determination to finish the project they have been thinking of, or working on, for years.  I was in the process of writing my fourth novel, after completing three novels this year.  For me, the experience sharpened the tools I already use and added more to my toolbox.  We all learned from each other during the 2 ½ days we spent together.  We are all better for it.

I would highly recommend attending writer’s conferences or workshops.  In addition to the advice and critiques you receive from the professionals, you share ideas, make new friends, expand your network, learn and support each other.  Kudos to our wardens from WIWA who organized a professional, productive, and fun lockdown.  We were all paroled, but I expect we will be incarcerated again sometime next year.  I look forward to it.

View of Penn Cove

What retreats or workshops do you recommend?  I would love to hear about them.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Richard