I don’t recall how many times I’ve been asked, how do you do it? The do it they’re talking about is writing.
It’s simple, really. You get an idea, mull it over and over and over, then sit down at the keyboard and throw words down. At first you’re excited. It’s a fresh idea with new characters, all seems wonderful. Words flow, they might be crap, but they somehow find the page.
Then, like life, your story begins to screw with you. You catch a bad hop that hits you in the balls. And while you’re on the ground, writhing in pain, you have a choice; get up and walk it off or crawl off the field. As a former baseball player, I tend to articulate writing a story with sports. At least, as a writer, your bad hops happen behind closed doors. That’s both a plus and a minus. The plus; nobody sees the mountain of discarded words and thoughts piled on the floor. The minus; if done well it looks easy.
To paraphrase Mr. Hemingway, writing is easy, you sit at the typewriter and write until your fingers bleed.
Sounds horrible, right? Why on earth would anyone do it? For me it’s that one sentence, that one thought that finds the magic. You know it when you write it. You reread the sentence and think, damn, that’s good. As an athlete you know this feeling. In addition to being a writer I’m also a golf professional. I’ve been teaching for over twenty years. The one tenant I hope to instill in my students is, enjoy the moment. Golf is the most demanding of all sports. There are no do-overs. Every shot counts. And when you play a horrible round try to find that one nugget of gold and hold onto it.
I approach writing in the same way. Find your story, get to know your characters, and get it down on paper. The first draft is like a bad round of golf. Bad shots all over the course, poor decisions, missed opportunities. But like that one true sentence there is that one true shot. And it keeps you coming back for the next round.
Sticking with the athlete metaphor; how do great players become great? True some are born with all the skills. Those are the very few. Most athletes spend countless hours developing and honing their skills. Most people don’t see that pain, the self doubt, the moments every athlete thinks about saying to hell with it. What people see are amazing feats of skill and accomplishments.
When someone picks up a book, or sits in a darkened theater, and is wowed, they don’t see the hours of hard work that created the story. They don’t see the rejections and hear the criticism that every writer knows so well. Unless you’re one of those lucky few that has been graced with overwhelming talent and circumstances you have to WORK. An accomplished golfer hits thousands of balls. Some good, some bad, always learning from mistakes and savoring their successes.
I am no different. I’m still learning the craft of writing. It’s not magic. It’s getting to the computer and putting words down. The more you do it, the better you get.
Here’s another analogy for writers; want to get better as an athlete, then watch what they do. Study the greats. For me in golf it was Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus.
For the next generation it was Tiger Woods. Each of them have different approaches to the game, yet each was great. Watching is a great learning tool.
I believe writers need to take the same approach. Reading is learning. And I would suggest you read a variety of writers with different styles. Some will resonate others won’t. Hemingway was considered by many to be the greatest American writer. For me, although I appreciate his less-is-more approach, he leaves me wanting for a lyric to the story. At the other end of the spectrum is JK Rowling. Her word pictures are wonderful, but at times I wish she’d get to the story.
I don’t want to date myself, but I grew up in an era of poetry. Every night we’d sit in front of the television and watch the newscasters rattle off the death count in Vietnam. We had riots in the streets. The world seemed dark. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Poetry and the lyrics to songs provided a sounding board for our hopes and our fears. Being a romantic at heart I tried my hand. I soon realized I wasn’t a very good poet. Besides, like leisure suits, it quickly fell out of fashion. Nobody outside of a college classroom reads poetry.
I decided to write what people read. Romance novels sell more than any others. I guess I’m not that much of a romantic. Can’t bring myself to do it. But I do love mystery and thrillers. I write to entertain. Escape the ordinary. Hopefully find a story and compelling characters that will take the reader to a different place and time. Transport them to places and experiences that they don’t find in their daily lives.
That is my goal. Transportation of the mind. I love the improbable, the impossible. Whether it’s an assassin killing the richest men in America to right horrible wrongs, Gabriel’s Rule, or a desperate woman battling inner demons and horrible creatures, Hideous. My latest novel, Haunting Amanda, was inspired after we moved into our new home. It didn’t take long to figure out that we had company. Weird sounds, things moving. We live with a ghost who seems to need a lot of attention. Thank you to our entity. It provided material for a pretty good haunted house story. It’s the extraordinary.
It all starts with what if? Ideas are everywhere. Pay attention to everything around you. Everyone in the world wears a mask. That masks are a projection of what we want the world to see. The trick of the writer is to peel back the mask and discover the truth. And hopefully do it in a style that doesn’t put the reader to sleep. At least that’s how I see it.