So how is it you go about putting together 80,000 words on a subject like greed, hate, corruption, sudden death and police investigative procedures? You work from what you know, what you’ve observed and what you’ve read that you’ve liked or has stuck with you. William Faulkner, pictured above looking a lot like a college professor, is arguably this country’s greatest writer of fiction and he told us to:
Read, read, read, read, read — I think Faulkner was following Gertrude Stein’s lead with her write, write, write, write, write . . . advise —Read everything, trash, classics, good and bad and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read. You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.
You have evolved to this point in time, to the place where, as a person, you have something to say that you want other people to hear. It’s time to charge your computer, sharpen your pencils or refill your ink well. Then look at yourself in the mirror and say out loud, “I’m a writer.” It might make you a little uncomfortable, but there it is. Personally, I’ve got a day job, kids, a mortgage, two car payments and a love of murder mysteries, but I think of myself as a writer. Roy Blunt Jr. put it this way:
If you were a member of Jesse James’ gang and someone asked you what you were, you wouldn’t say, ‘Well, I’m a desperado.’ You’d say something like, ‘I work in banks,’ or ‘I’ve done some railroad work.’ It took me a long time just to say, ‘I’m a writer.’ It’s really embarrassing.
I should point out at this juncture that while you may be ready to begin writing, the rest of your life might not exactly fall in line with your new sense of direction. In order to get this job done, and it is a job—Sean O’Casey, the Irish playwright said:
When I stepped from manual labor to writing, I just went from one kind of hard work to another.
—you’re going to need some space as well as peace and quiet. If you’re single, live alone and don’t own pets you’re halfway there already. However, by the time you get out of school you’ve already started picking up commitments here and there. Not many at first, but more and more as you get older. The process is incremental, like life itself, so you don’t notice the changes much on a day to day basis, but all of a sudden there you are with all these responsibilities, and worse, your parents have stopped paying your car insurance. In fact, you don’t hear from your parents very much any more.
Let me give you two quotes that illustrate my point. The first is from the novelist Lawrence Clark Powell and the second from the former prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru:
Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends and society are the natural enemies of a writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.
All my major works have been written in prison. I would recommend prison not only to aspiring writers but to politicians, too.
Another appropriate question to ask yourself is why would any sensible person subject themselves to the kind of exile that it obviously takes to write a book. Why would someone create strife in the home and tremendous personal anxiety to secure the time and solitude to write a book. After all, nobody called you up and asked, ‘ Could you get us 80,000 words by Friday?’ There are more than 50,000 books a month published and yet, there you are, tap, tap, tapping away in a garage closet at three in the morning so you won’t wake up the kids.
I mentioned in the last blog that Graham Greene had written the screenplay for “The Third Man” starring Orson Welles. William Faulkner spent some time in Hollywoodland, too. He was the lead writer on this Bogart-Bacall vehicle that was a box office hit.
Without question, the relationship between a writer and his book is, at best, a love-hate affair. On one hand we have Graham Greene telling us that writing is a form of therapy, but then he turns around and says:
Writing is for the most part a lonely and unsatisfying occupation. One is tied to a table, a chair, and a stack of paper.
The reason you do it is because you have to. You write because you must. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances and, at times, regardless of the cost. Maybe it’s ego that refuses to let you get on with the rest of your life, or perhaps it’s an insane desire for worldwide fame and fortune. Who knows, maybe you were neglected as an eleven-year-old. Whatever the motivation, it is overwhelming. George Orwell said writers write because:
You’re driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. Writers are vain, selfish and lazy and at the very bottom of their motive there lies a mystery.
So, the final question before you sit down to start is, does it matter? To anybody? Is what you have to say so interesting, so important, that you will rearrange your life to get it written? And if you do complete the manuscript, will it have been worth the time, the aggravation and the hard work? Geoffery Cotterell reminds us that:
In America only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, and in Australia you have to explain what a writer is.
The answer is, of course it matters. Yes, it is important. It’s vital. And though your story may not be well received, or received at all — it could go completely unnoticed — it will be more than worth the effort. And the things you will learn about yourself in the process will be wondrous.
Next time in Entertainments for Your Mind 3 (I think I’ve got this Hollywood sequel thing down) we’ll tackle the nuts and bolts of the process and getting it all down on paper, virtually speaking. And, if I may, a few more words of shameless commerce. My three books are available at amazon.com/author/dcwall for $2.99 per download. Actually Dead Last isn’t up there, yet. Soon. But One Cried Murder and Exit Marks the Spot both are. I thank you in advance for supporting my work. Best, David.