Recently I met someone locally who found out I am a published novelist and they expounded on how that has been their life’s ambition, and all I can say is …
So you want to be a writer? Are you sure about that?
Wait, let me rephrase that question in a way that will reflect the true essence of what I am asking you … because if there is one thing I have discovered it is that there is a huge and gaping chasm between being a writer and what I am getting at.
So, you wanna be a published writer? There, that’s better. Well, here’s a little three step guide as to how to do that, or not, depending on your perspective.
One, write something. Easy enough?
Nope, because if it was, the actual art of doing it would be as mundane as mowing your lawn … and if you expect to make a living at it, you should probably go ahead and start mowing the neighbors’ lawns too. You’ll get rich quicker that way.
Sit down, develop the concept of your story, your character(s), your plot line. Spend days, weeks, even months rolling them around in your head — it took me 10 years to get the first words of The Good Reverend on paper — listening as they talk to you and develop their own voice, mannerisms, quirks, and personalities and soon the plot lines are smooth and seamless, locales are vivid images in your mind like those travel guide slicks you see.
Now you’re off and running.
Two, begin the rounds of selling that story. All it takes is submitting it to a publisher or agent and the next thing you know, you have an advance check in your hand and the process of designing cover art, page layouts, bios, cover photos, publicity pics, agents and publicists lining up around the block, taking a number to even speak with you for a moment, hoping to get a piece of the next big thing.
Your life has changed now. That one concept, that one novel, is now your meal ticket and people are ready to cater to your every need.
Three, line up book signings from coast to coast at all of the big box bookstores … the ones that come equipped with cappuccino vendors, couches, reading nooks and intellectual and beautiful people who could as easily be mannequins as people.
Once the sign goes up in the store that you’re gonna be in town, you’ll have to begin turning down invitations to appear. Let’s face it, once you’re out there and you have your winning manuscript in the public’s hands, no one is going to be able to get enough … you are finally seen as a literary genius, an artist, a phenom, with people amazed that you came out of nowhere so quickly, so naturally talented they wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. The lines of people are massive and overwhelming!
Sounds easy enough. Well, I would be a liar — or a writer — if I tried to sell that to you.
OK, ready for the truth? First, that story I described falling from your mind onto the page is a myth, it doesn’t exist. You will delete and trash far more of the words that you write than people will ever see. That story you so carefully plotted to the most minute degree for so long goes flying out the window in the first five pages because those characters will decide they don’t like what you are making them do. They wanna do something else.
The seamless plot lines become blurred and fuzzy because as the people wanna change what they are saying or doing or refuse to cooperate, all the little plot points you knew were perfect literary devices are no longer viable … and before long you begin to talk out loud to these imaginary people because they won’t do what they are told.
As for the second hint above, here’s a fact for you: You have a better chance of marrying Demi Moore, or maybe Roger Moore for you women, than you do of finding an agent (it’s easier to get published than find an agent) because the woods are full of people who have as much talent as you do beating their doors down.
That third thing I talked about? Well, come on, has anyone seen me on the Today show rubbing elbows with Matt Lauer? Truth is, you have to be willing to speak at any function or gathering of more than three people for a cheeseburger, a gallon of gas, and a roadmap to find your way out of whatever hole in the wall you happen to be in at the time.
So, you still want to be a published writer? Here’s the truth on how to become a novelist.
One, don’t play God with the story and characters. It’s their story, shut up, get out of the way and let them tell it. Two, rub your skin daily with a scouring pad until it is tough and leathery because the one word you are going to have to learn to read and hear is “no.”
Three, be prepared for long weekends on the road in bookstores wherever they will have you. The only sounds that you’ll remember hearing aren’t the thunderous roars of appreciation for the work you put in, but the Muzak and the crickets chirping while some guy named Francis is staring at you because his store is empty and he was banking on you to pay the mortgage that month. He’ll be lucky if he can pay the light bill off what you brought him.
My advice? Write … write … write … for you.