A couple of interesting posts on the craft of writing have popped up on the internet.
The first is written by Joe Hill, author of the excellent 20th century Ghosts, Heart-Shaped Box, and Horns. He details the process he uses during rewrites (and also makes a few tantalizing references to his current work in progress).
You’ll find the second on Robert Jackson Bennett’s blog. Bennett wrote the Company Man and the Shirley Jackson Award-winning Mr. Shivers. His post is on the writer’s learning process, on finding one’s voice, and on doing both through rewrites. He also writes about the frustration inherent in learning to notice one’s own mistakes (a good thing) before having yet learned to fix those mistakes (an infuriating thing).
Both posts deal with editing and rewriting—directly in the case of Hill’s piece and not so directly in Bennett’s. But they also both demonstrate how difficult, how time and energy consuming writing really is. Sure, it’s fun, no question, but it’s also hard work.
I’ve only recently begun discussing my writing with others. Putting up this website was the first step. Actually submitting work and even getting a few published in smaller markets was another, bigger step. In social situations, I now bring up writing as a hobby. Yet, I still don’t refer to myself as a Writer. I just haven’t gotten to a point where I can do so without feeling pretentious or delusional or both.
But it still annoys me when others call themselves writers, or say that they will one day write a novel or two (y’know, when they have time) but, when questioned further, reveal that they spend exactly zero hours a day writing and haven’t read anything aside from the latest issue of Adbusters in months.
Writing is not a video game you’ll try out once you’ve gotten the upstairs bathroom painted. Writing is not a trip to Athens you’ll enjoy once you retire. And writing is not something you do in between seasons of How I Met Your Mother.
Writing is hard. Writing is a job. Writing is a demanding asshole.
I’ll admit, my work ethic isn’t yet where it needs to be. I try to write at least a thousand words a day but, yeah, I miss a day here and there—and it shows. But I do my best to treat my writing with the respect I hope it will someday earn from readers. I take it seriously and when I meet people who don’t, who treat writing like their Saturday poker nights with the boys, well, I take that personally.
So, if you just know you’ve got a great idea for novel. That’s fine. But if you do and you don’t write regularly and don’t read at least a novel a week, I have to ask:
Did you read that post by Joe Hill? How does rewriting the same story from scratch sound to you? How about Bennett’s post, read that? How does writing three novels before you feel you’ve truly found your voice sound? Fun? Easy? Peachy freakin’ keen? Do you even realize what is meant by “voice” or “style”?
Sorry. It got away from me there.
To anyone who “has a great idea for a novel” but hasn’t written anything beyond a Facebook status update or Twitter tweet in the past three days (yes, I said three days), I urge you to read the posts above, then wander over to Dan Simmons’ website and work your way through his absolutely invaluable “Writing Well” series of essays. Read every word. Then decide if you still want to “someday write a novel.”
I’m done now.