If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I should write a book” I’d be a wealthy woman.
A lot of people let that very phrase drip off their tongues in conversation. But there’s a big difference between those of us who do write a book and those of us who don’t, and it boils down to one word.
Nope, it’s not TIME. Time is a cop-out that everyone uses–I’ve done so in the past, and as a harried full-time teacher and mother I felt justified in making this excuse, but the thing that forced me to write in stolen moments despite the absolute insanity that was my life was PASSION.
PASSION for the written word is what separates the real writers from the “I should write a book” mouthpieces.
I suspect many people who utter this sentence are just making conversation. But to a writer who has studied, both formally (MFA) and informally (subscriptions to writing journals, conferences, professional group memberships, the ever-expanding and well-read personal library on writing) hearing this uttered by those who haven’t worked their asses off in loving deference to the craft, well it just grates on our nerves.
It’s rather like someone telling Dr. Ben Carson that someday, they’d like to do brain surgery. Or an overweight armchair quarterback telling Tom Brady that someday they’d like to play NFL football.
If you want to do something, do it. Otherwise, shut your blow-hole. With all due respect.
Back when I wrote my first novel length manuscript, there were no computers. I had to write it out in longhand, and then type a manuscript using a typewriter. An old portable Smith Corona electric typewriter. And man, did I go through correcting fluid.
My first novel, Dangerous Beginnings was not so hot. I just didn’t know it then. I was twenty-three.
Not knowing then what I know now, I wanted to send it off to New York, so it could be published. But how?
I had to study The Writer and Writer’s Digest to learn how to submit the thing to publishers. Our resources were much more limited back then. And it was more expensive to submit as well. As soon as I learned what an SASE was, I knew money would be an issue. So I scrimped and saved in the name of my art.
That novel went out and back and out and back more than a few times. It is in a box somewhere in my basement where it will stay. But it was the start of my very long internship in the craft.
Back then, we had one bookstore in town. Walden Books. And the old ladies who worked there were instructed in the same level of customer service currently in vogue at many Hallmark Stores. Which basically means, someone will follow you around and stare at you as if you are going to steal something. Rather the way African-Americans are made to feel when they describe, “Shopping while Black” or “Driving while Black,” I suppose.
And so, I would go in the Walden Bookstore to the writer’s shelf–always at the bottom and in the back of the store, and I would sit down and go through the writing reference books to see which one I wanted to buy with the earnings from my lowbrow job. (This was well before bookstores got the idea to put overstuffed chairs around for customers to actually browse through the books they considered buying.)
Oh, and sometimes Gladys or Edna had to stand and watch me for quite a while as I made up my mind. But I didn’t care. I was a student of the craft who was someday going to be an author.
I knew what I wanted and was going for it. I even got vanity tags for my old, yellow Dodge Colt that said, “AUTHOR.” One day, some asshole at the Exxon Gas Station said to me, “Author, huh? Well, from the looks of your car, you’re not a very successful one.”
I didn’t know why this man felt compelled to shit on my dream, but I just ignored him and soldiered on, writing every night that I didn’t have grad school and writing every weekend as well.
My second novel got me close to publication. I actually had an agent who wanted to represent my historical romance, Perilous Nights, but then a family emergency forced her to close her agency and that was that.
From there the full-time job, marriage to a man with the schedule from hell, and three rambunctious sons became my time suck. There were other manuscripts and a collection of great rejection letters–very encouraging ones from major players, but nothing really panned out.
But throughout it all, I have kept a framed quote over my desk that my father gave me back when I was writing my first novel on the old electric typewriter:
The Press On quote reminds me that I have it in me to reach my dream. All of us do, if we want it badly enough. Remember, the level of your success is in direct proportion to the level of your hard work. Plus, I believe God blesses our efforts when they are in alignment with His will.
That being said, post-cancer and early retirement, I am beginning to have some modest success with short fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. I am getting back to my first love, novel-writing, as well.
If you are a writer, you feel a level of happiness and satisfaction that can only be achieved when you are writing. When you are not writing, something is missing from your life. (And when you are not writing for a very long time, you may have your significant other tell you, as my husband tells me, “Please get back to writing, you’re being a complete asshole.”)
In closing, if God gave you a talent and drive to write, then go for it.
Sit your ass in your chair and write. As Louis L’Amour said, “Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
Press on fellow writers. And remember, “I should write a book” and everything else like it is just lip service.
No one can stop you from being a writer if that’s what you really want to be–write every day and in every way.
And may your muse be as strong as your tenacity,
Susan J. Anderson, Foxy Writer Chick