Friday, April 25, 2014

So you want to be a writer?

“Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer, Paperback writer.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the question…so you want to be a writer? Sometimes it’s followed by an expression of support, sometimes by a kindred soul who knows the same tortured feeling of trying to squeeze a story onto paper such that it sounds as good on the written page as it does in our heads, but more often than not it’s followed by someone who wants to tell me exactly how tough that dream will be!

“Everyone wants to be a writer,” they’ll say… “It’s not easy to get published,” they’ll tell you. “Why don’t you try something easier,” mom chimes in.

“Well then, my backup plan is to be an astronaut.”

That usually shuts them up. (Editorial note: I actually tried to become an astronaut, but getting sick on a roller coaster doesn’t bode well for a career of intergalactic exploration).

What’s fascinating is that so many of the naysayers, the folks who like to point out how high the hurdles will be to see your book land on the shelves of Barnes and Nobles, or on the front page of Amazon…those people, they’ll turn right around and pitch you their book idea! They either tried but couldn’t figure out how to put it together, or they were scared to start.

It’s a page at a time, that’s all it is. It’s about finding interesting things to do in life and having plenty to write about. It’s about long hours in front of a screen pecking away (I only use three fingers!) to make a story come alive not knowing if anyone else will ever read it. It’s about making it to conferences to learn to write better. It’s about knocking down the doors of agents until you find a good one (or if you’re lucky enough, a GREAT one—Liz Kracht!). It’s about reading, so that you’re a consumer of the written word while you learn how other authors put it all together. It’s about all those things. But more than anything, it’s all about starting. It’s also about knowing when to let go, and when to start again.

I’ve written three novels. The first will stay in my desk drawer, or in that encrypted file that I will never give up! I’d be embarrassed to read it again (it did have an astronaut as a character, though). The second might get dusted off soon, edited and revised to incorporate all that I’ve learned and experienced along the way. The third…well, you can read a bit more about it here.

Though I had been writing my entire life, I decided I wanted to be a writer while lying in a mud puddle in the bottom of a concrete bunker in Afghanistan. And six short years, two more deployments in between, an additional pair of kids, and a crazy collie later, that third novel has landed in front of interested editors. I should have been a damn astronaut!

“If you really like it you can have the rights,
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it, you can send it here
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer, Paperback writer.”

- Lyrics by Paul McCartney…the music in my head while typing this…the Beatles.

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