Writers Write

on January 19, 2006

Last night I celebrated the release of THE PREY with a launch party. I invited family and friends and was humbled by the incredible turnout. Many of my friends that showed up were people I’d worked with for a long time, or a long time ago, before I quit my job in the California Legislature. They came to wish me well and support me, and I’ll never forget it.

One long-time friend commented to my husband that he was 98% thrilled for me and 2% envious. He said, “Everyone wants to write a book, but Allison actually did it.”

Whether it’s true or not that everyone wants to write, one thing that separates those who want to and those who do is sacrifice. My friend readily admitted he wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to actually write a book, even though the desire was there.

Everyone who has ever typed The End knows exactly what I mean . . . it takes a little blood, a lot of sweat, and some creative cussing, to actually cross the finish line. Everyone who gets to The End can call themselves a writer because the first hurdle is often the toughest. It doesn’t matter if you’ve sold yet or not — pat yourselves on the back, break open the champagne, because you’ve accomplished something everyone says they “can” do but few sit down and actually do it.

If you really want to write a book, but haven’t been able to finish, here’s my story and advice:

For years, writing was a hobby. A way to relax and play. I never finished anything I started. When I got serious about it, in early 2002, I looked at my files and realized that I’d started well over one hundred stories that I never finished. Some were only five or six pages. Many were 30-50 pages. More than ten far exceeded 200 pages. I was shocked . . . and this was only since I had my new computer, about 1999. Wow. Three years and nothing to show for it. I felt like a failure.

When I decided to commit myself to finishing a book, I looked through all my unfinished manuscripts. They were almost all garbage. The few good beginnings, I didn’t know how to move forward. So I started with a fresh idea.

One of my problems had been getting new ideas in the middle of a story, then starting on that new idea and dumping the old story. I forced myself to continue writing the story I’d chosen. I had to prove to myself that I could finish what I started.

When I got to The End you’d have thought I’d sold already. I was proud of myself, because I did something for my dream. I had always wanted to be a writer; now I could say I’d written a book.

(As an aside, this was in 2002 and I thought the hardest part of publication would be finishing a book. . . . Okay, okay, stop laughing, please. Please. Okay, ha ha ha.)

Once I finished one book, it was much easier to finish a second book. Each book became better. My writing improved, my story telling ability improved. I finished five books in less than two years. I didn’t discover my voice until my fifth book. That’s the book I sold.

Writing without a contract, without an agent, is difficult. YOU are the only person in the world who cares whether you finish that book. YOU are the person you are writing for first and foremost. You must love what you are doing, through the struggles and the fits and the writers block and the characters who won’t shut up. Families can be supportive, but in the end, your spouse or child isn’t the one writing the book, you are.

If you really want to write that book, but feel like you don’t have the time or you can’t focus or you don’t have support, here are some ideas that might help:

* Dream. Remember that this is your dream. When you’re struggling, remember the things you love about writing and storytelling. Maybe your dream isn’t about becoming published, maybe it’s just writing that one story that burns in your heart. That’s okay. Not all writers need to be published. But all writers do write.

* Sacrifice. Anything worth having is worth making sacrifices to achieve. Decide what you are willing to sacrifice to pursue your dream, the stick to it. Nothing lasts forever. Sort of like the terrible twos of childhood, there IS an end in sight even if you can’t see it. Set your goal and sacrifice to realize it.

* Persevere. If rejection is depressing you and stifling that stubborn muse, remember that Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark were rejected over 100 times. I had over 40 rejections on each of my first two books, and even rejections on the book I ultimately sold. Rejection is part of life, and it’s part of this business.

But first and foremost, write. One page a day or twenty, the only way to get to The End is to write.

I’ve often quoted Nora Roberts as saying, “I can fix a written page; I can’t fix a blank one” but I’d never seen it “officially.” I found a real comment from her on a chat that I actually like quite a bit:

I’m really disciplined. I have a pretty straight schedule. Six to eight hours a day. More if it’s really cooking. If I have to fiddle, finesse, hack, I’ve got something to fiddle with, etc. If I hadn’t kept writing, all I’d have would be the same blank page.
Nora Roberts

I am not as disciplined as Nora Roberts is, but I’m working on it. And so should you.