writers

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Twenty Years a Writer, Part 1: “Think Of It As An Exercise”

In November, it will be twenty years since I became a Writer with a capital W. That’s a different being from one who just happens to write things like term papers, memos, reports, email messages, and journal entries for work or personal reasons. I did that kind of writing all my life. A Writer, on the other hand, writes novels. A Writer writes books.

Writers, I always thought, are special. They are the anointed few, like members of a religious order or secret society. They are interviewed by serious-minded journalists on national radio. Their names are uttered in tones of hushed reverence by readers.

If one hasn’t become a Writer by age thirty, I thought, it’s too late. But in my forties, I actually did it. And have kept doing it. Okay, I haven’t been interviewed on national radio. No one utters my name reverently (as far as I know). But it’s on five novels and a collection of short stories.

Because 2020 is a milestone in my writing career, it’s an excuse opportunity for a series of posts about my approach to writing and publishing.

There will be no advice in these posts, just my experiences and thoughts about them. I’ve given up dispensing advice to fellow writers, at least in the form of “You should do this” and “You should never do that.” Okay, maybe the odd “You may wish to” sneaks in there at times. As do my opinions on advice from others.


November 7th, 2000 was suddenly the right time for me to start writing a novel I had been thinking about for a couple of years. I had an idea I found compelling, and the dark evenings were perfect for the solitary and closeted activity of novel writing. I had recently read Stephen King’s book On Writing. I was all fired up.

I set up a writing space in a spare room in the basement, furnished myself with a 2-inch-thick pile of good-one-side (i.e., scrap) paper and a pen, and started writing what eventually became The Friendship of Mortals.

But writing a novel is a daunting project, especially if you haven’t done it before. Sitting in front of that stack of paper with pen in hand, I had reservations. Who did I think I was? What if I ran out of words, ideas, and images? What if the thing was a dud? What if I never finished it at all?

Then I had an idea: Think of it as an exercise. That cut the project down to size. “Come on,” I told myself, “let’s try it; if it doesn’t work out, no one will know.”

“Exercise” is a good word here, because it’s sort of like adding a few more “reps” when one is doing push-ups or squats. Or running just one more kilometer. “Come on–just one more.” One more paragraph, one more page, one more book.

And of course, it was 100% up to me whether I continued. No one was checking up on me or suggesting I speed things up. No one asked me how many words I had written that day. I was utterly free to write or not. (Twenty years later, I look back on that time with envy.)

The approach worked, or maybe I was just lucky. The project took off and became an obsession. I spent three or four hours on it every evening (after a full day at work) and finished the first draft in six months. In the next five years, I followed it up with two sequels, which ultimately became three when I chopped one of them into two, to form the Herbert West Series.

To keep things in perspective, none of these books was published until 2010. Unlike writing, attracting a publisher was more than an exercise.

What about you, fellow scribes? How did you start your first piece of serious writing? Did you read writing craft books first? Do research? Make an outline? Scribble a bunch of ideas that eventually coalesced?

Next time–the Proto-draft.

This is Part 1 of a seven part series. Here are links to the other parts:
Part 2: The Proto-draft
Part 3: Writing From the Inside or the Outside?
Part 4: Reasons to Write and Reasons to Publish
Part 5: Editing Process
Part 6: Don’t Forget to Justify!
Part 7: Unwritten and Unrealized

Happy Holidays greeting, robins at cotoneaster

Good Wishes to All

To all the bloggers I’ve grown to know over the past few years — you’ve visited, liked, commented, and reblogged. Some of you have read and reviewed my books, and I’ve read and reviewed some of yours.

To writers — inspiration, time to write, and success with the WIP.

To bloggers — ideas for great posts, and lots of likes and follows.

To self-publishers — good (or at least decent) reviews. And sales, of course. And to those of you who dare to do your own editing, formatting, and/or cover design, success with your DIY projects.

To readers — a TBR pile full of delights, and time to read them.

To gardeners — enough sun, enough rain, and may your garden be blessed with earth magic.

To everyone — peace, good health, and good will.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Open House Interview with author Audrey Driscoll

I had the chance to participate in Sally Cronin’s Open House today. She provided some interesting questions, and hopefully my answers are interesting as well.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

My guest today on the Open House is supernatural/paranormal author of The Herbert West Series, Audrey Driscoll.

About Audrey Driscoll

I grew up reading books, and became interested in making stories myself. I worked out scenes and bits of dialogue, and made my friends act out little dramas based on my favourite book at the time – Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.

With that background, it was inevitable I would become a writer. It just took a while. After establishing a career as a librarian – first at the University of Saskatchewan and then at the Greater Victoria Public Library in British Columbia – I had a meaningful encounter with H.P. Lovecraft’s character Herbert West.

Strangely fascinated by HPL’s corpse-reanimating physician and his friend the nameless narrator, I built a set of stories around them. In 2000, I was compelled to write them down. The result was The Friendship of Mortals…

View original post 2,202 more words

Writerly Pursuits

 

Looking at my current Things To Do list — specifically Writerly Things To Do (I also have such lists for the house, the garden and my day job) — got me thinking about activities that characterize the writing life. In no particular order, here is the list:

  1. Read and review the three books from the Emerging Local Authors Collection that are sitting on my bedside table.
  2. Finish writing a story (provisionally) called “The Ice Cream Truck From Hell.” Then post the story to my blog.
  3. Look through my file of stories that have never seen the light of day and select a couple to post on the blog. Then post them.
  4. Read closely and comment on three contributions to my critique group in preparation for a meeting on October 20th.
  5. Format for print publication within the next 3 months the second and third books of the Herbert West Series.
  6. Write some other stories that have been incubating way too long, before the ideas that inspired them wither and die.
  7. Prepare to write another novel — a sequel to the Herbert West Series — set in Egypt, specifically at an archaeological excavation in the 1960s. “Prepare to write?” You know — research, brooding, making notes, visualizing scenes, making more notes, etc.
  8. Read and occasionally comment on the daily stream of posts from the blogs I follow.
  9. Post to my blog at least once a week.
  10. Come to grips with the idea of marketing.

Thinking about this, it occurred to me that this is the real stuff of Being A Writer (except the marketing bit, maybe). It’s the 21st century analogue of what writers used to do in pre-computer days — getting together in cafes and bars, gossiping and arguing about the meaning of it all, writing letters, taking walks in the country and thinking about what to write next, mingling in literary salons, scraping away with their quill pens or pounding their typewriters. Nowadays much of the connection and exchange of ideas is done through social media, of course, but the dynamic is the same.

And, of course, there’s #10 on my list — marketing. Now as in the past, there are businesslike writers and those to whom that is an alien notion. Today’s indie authors don’t have to look far for reminders that to succeed, they must regard their writing and publishing as a business. Any who do not do this must resign themselves to failure.

As with the writing rules that also abound on the internet, the real situation is more complex — a compound of financial realities, creative impulses, expectations and motivations. Many self-published writers display a truly businesslike attitude, with (I assume) varying degrees of financial success and personal satisfaction. Many others do not. (Guess which of these groups I belong to. Just guess).

That’s really a side issue, though, the “marketing” aspect of being a writer. The core of it is whatever leads to new creations — writing. Whether the ferment of ideas and inspiration comes from face-to-face conversations with fellow writers, or electronically around the world, it must lead to sitting down and stringing words together. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Too Many Writers Talking About Writing?

Lately it seems that a lot of “indie” writers have found the time to accuse one another of filling the internet with badly written, unedited crap. There are huge numbers of bloggers (like me!) holding forth on the topic and endless forums in which opinions are fired off like artillery barrages. People are trashing each other right and left. You can tell how heated the discussions are by the number of typos made by the flying fingers of the indignant.

I can say one thing — reading these chains of heated opinions is addictive. I’ve spent (wasted?) several hours today doing that. Just think of all the original, creative writing everyone involved in these discussions could have done instead. But would anyone have read that writing? Hmm.

It’s a no-win argument, really, saying that certain people just shouldn’t write — or publish — because their writing is bad, because they haven’t had it “professionally” edited, because they haven’t “honed” their craft, etc. Of course anyone who wants to can write and publish, and no one has to read their work unless they want to. As for filling up the internet, I wouldn’t worry — text takes up far less space than all those cute puppy videos.

I do have a couple of pet theories about the indie writer scene. One of them is that wannabe writers are an enormous and growing market — for editing services, cover design services, book doctoring and marketing and conferences. As boomers retire and discover a book inside of them that simply must be delivered to the world, there will be more and more entrepreneurs eager to help them — for a fee. And that’s a Good Thing, isn’t it? But to create and maintain the market, writers have to be convinced that their writing cannot possibly be good enough without the professional touch.

And why do so many people want to be writers? Simple — they think it’s a quick and easy route to some kind of celebrity. Most of us have neither the looks nor the ability to be a movie actor or an athlete (and for those of us who are boomers, or even “zoomers,” it’s too late anyway), but hey! we can sit in front of our computers and forge our life experiences, humorous thoughts and emotional ups and downs into prose. A few drafts later, we upload and next thing you know someone from the local media is asking us where we get our ideas and telling us how interesting it is that we turned our tropical cruises into a murder mystery.

Has this happened to me? No. I’m just using my imagination, so it doesn’t become atrophied. Because ever since I began publishing (as opposed to writing) the books of my Herbert West Trilogy, I haven’t actually written much of anything. I hope that will change this fall, but if I allow myself to get drawn into the morass of writing about writing, it probably never will.