Friday, July 31, 2009

Notes on Why We Write...Or Don't Write

In Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, David Morrell tells the story of how he became drawn to fiction writing, his determination, his trials and errors, and his successes. The part of the story I like best is about a novel Morrell began when he was only twenty-five years old. He still lacked confidence in his abilities, so even after completing several drafts of a tale about a Vietnam veteran, Morrell gave up on the novel with little hope he'd ever make it as a fiction writer. He shoved the manuscript into a drawer "and began a much more sensible project: my dissertation on the contemporary American writer John Barth."

When the dissertation was finished, Morrell had free time before moving to the University of Iowa to begin his teaching job. He found that abandoned manuscript, decided it wasn't nearly as bad as he'd thought, finished it, and sent it to an agent. Months later, the manuscript sold. That was First Blood, the first book in the Rambo series.

Morrell, after years of experience and many published books, advises writers not to chase trends or try to second guess the market. He goes on to say, "The only reason to write a story is that it grabs you and won't let you go until you put it on paper."

Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook quote agent Peter Rubie in Give 'Em What They Want, "I think the best a writer can ever do is do what he wants to do, as best as he can do it. Be true to yourself and everything else will follow."

And Julia Cameron, in her book Walking in This World: the Practical Art of Creativity, tells this story:

"Today my mail contained a manila envelope from a friend, a born storyteller who spent years wanting to write and not writing. Last June, on a perfectly ordinary day, Larry did an extraordinary thing for him: He picked up a pen and started writing. I now have a fat sheaf of stories in my hand. All he needed to do was begin. And then begin again the next day."
The concept isn't hard to grasp. All of the ones who do it keep telling those who don't: Write. Just sit down and write. If you lack confidence, as did David Morrell when he was young, write anyway. If the market seems to favor biological disaster thrillers, and you want to write a gentle love story that begins in the shelter of a covered bridge, write your love story anyway.

And if you desperately want to be a fiction writer, but you spend much of your free time watching television, pick up the remote, turn off the TV, pick up a pen, and start writing.


Anonymous said...

More writing books added to my To Read list, thanks Pat.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I simply couldn’t write what I didn’t enjoy reading. If the project at hand doesn’t grab ME, there’s no chance it will get done…none. So, by definition, then, I guess that means I ignore trends.

I won’t lash them publically, but there are several genres I just wouldn’t write because I dislike them personally and could not possibly put in the passion, time, interest, research, money, or skill that it would require.

I know an author who has published nearly 20 books (give or take) in a specific genre this person dislikes. The first one was done on a dare. It proved successful. They've been coming out since…but, man, I couldn’t live like that. I’d rather NOT write, than write something I disliked—even if I could make money at it. Sorta like prostitution.

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Anonymous said...

Its those determinations, trials and errors, and successes that shape, hone, and refine a writers abilities. I look at some of the darkest hours of my life and draw much inspiration. They made me a better person. Stronger. Better looking. Well, maybe not better looking, but a better overall person.

Stephen Tremp

Elspeth said...

The best advice any writer can get is simply "write". I have found that writing books are a double edged sword. On the one hand there will be some gem that I would never have thought of but on the other hand there will be some kernel of advice that rocks me back on my heels. Admittedly after some time I will usually ignore the heel-rockers, but the shake to my confidence is usually formidable.

I write the kind of book that I want to read. I place them in historical periods that I find interesting (sure helps with the research)! I don't think I could do anything else.

My games are another matter entirely. I look at the demographics and write what will sell.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm with you Galen. The freedom to write what I want is very important to me, and the ability to genre-hop and take my time is a joyful way to work.

At the same time, would I say no if a big publisher came to me and offered me a nice deal with a healthy advance on a three-book contract for a Florida Flipper mystery series? No, my friend, I'd sign away my freedom, jettison all other activities, plunk myself down in my chair, and start typing.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Stephen, you're funny. You bring up the impact of dark times on our writing, and still make me laugh.

Espeth, I'm going to track down your games and take a look. You just gave me an idea.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Glad to help. You'll find my games at

Terry Heath said...

Thank you for the encouraging post, Patricia. I guess I need to get around to that sixteen-or-seventeen-year-old-but-never-past-the-first-20-pages novel idea since it won't let me go. I have to for my MFA anyway. LOL

Marvin D Wilson said...

Thanks for wharing this. I have to agree, the real zen of writing is just "to write" - great stuff here for getting focused and staying the course.

The Old Silly

Enid Wilson said...

For me, it's to stop browsing the internet, rather than stop watching tv.

Bargain with the Devil