“I wish I had your job. All you do is sit around and make up stories all day.”
“I’ve got a great story for you. You write it and I’ll split the royalties.”
If writers had a dollar for every time someone told them they were on easy street they would be — well—on easy street. But we know the work is hard, that dedication is a prerequisite, and thick skin is the uniform we wear everyday. So if you ever need to explain the life of a writer, here’s how you can break it down.
STEP ONE: Herd Butterflies
Of the millions of words in the world, a writer must choose 100,000, and fit them together like puzzle pieces to create a seamless story. There is no wand to wave so that they magically fall in place. Nor is there a spell to cast that will take the vague, foggy images on the periphery of writer’s consciousness, give them form and function, and create memorable characters. Likewise a plot and story can be elusive. Initially these ideas are as solid as quicksand. One wrong step and the writer sinks. If we’re not willing to do this painstaking work to corral our butterflies, sculpt our characters, and create a solid plot foundation then we are not writers.
STEP TWO: Sit
Writers sit for hours, and days, and weeks on end. Months go by and still we sit. A writer may mentally plot or test dialogue while seeing to real life, but the hard work is accomplished by putting our butts in the chair while everyone else plays. If we give into temptation and join the party, we are not writers.
STEP THREE: Sand, Paint, and Patch
When the typing is done, the editing begins. Editing is an ugly, depressing, miserable process. Shave a word here, add ten there. Delete pages, chapters, chuck the whole book and start again. A writer prints out hard copy, marks it up until the pages look bloody with edits. Then a real pro inputs the edits and starts all over again. If we aren’t our own best critic, one willing to make things right for our readers, we are not real writers.
So when someone says they fancy your job or waxes romantic about a writer’s life, smile. Admit that writing is a wonderful profession. Insist that you would never dream of taking their amazing idea even though you’re tempted. Assure them that they deserve the literary glory. Do offer to look at their manuscript when it’s finished. While you’re waiting, you can start herding butterflies for your next blockbuster.
I never thought I’d be a novelist, much less a USA Today and Amazon bestseller. I wish I could say that I was an overnight success, but it’s taken years to hone my skills because I am self-taught.
This week I had lunch with two of my oldest writing buddies – the ever fabulous Mindy Neff and equally fabulous Sandy Chvostal.
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