When I decided to put down some thoughts about the “writer’s life,” the first thing that came to me was what a lawyer friend once told me. He said, with utter conviction that the three scariest words in the English language were: general prison population.
Frankly, I disagree. To me, the scariest words are: another blank page. I suspect a lot of writers would agree.
I was a newspaper reporter for twenty-five years, so I’m used to pounding out something, anything, that fills the required space. But when I can’t rely on journalism’s basics – who, what, where, when, why and how – things get immeasurably harder.
Let me be straight-forward. Writing is easy. But writing well is, at least for me, very, very hard. There are times when everything I write sounds awful – and usually for a very good reason. I keep a baseball on my desk for times like that. I’ll just throw the ball up, catch it, rub it a bit, and throw it again, waiting for inspiration. Over the years, I’ve rubbed that baseball shiny. It seldom works.
The fact is, I don’t like writing all that much. I like rewriting. I like to take a sentence or a paragraph apart and reshape it, make it tighter, make it more direct, more alive. I do a lot of rewriting. That doesn’t always work, either.
I once had an agent read my latest novel, and then call me. “Chuck,” he said, “I just read your novel. I don’t like the writing, and I don’t like the plot.”
More rewriting. I want to write something great and be done. Instead, I settle for writing what I can. It seems everything I write is ten times better in my head than on the page. But if I don’t write something, I won’t have anything to rewrite. It can be frustrating.
Still, that’s what writing is for me. I’m sure other writers approach the craft differently. There is no one “right way” to do it. It’s just the way I do it.
So, if someone ever asks me for tips about becoming a writer, I’m ready. First, I’ll say, don’t give up your day job. Second, always be ready to destroy everything you produced the day before (“killing your darlings” is a phrase I’ve often heard). And, finally, remember that every time you sit down to write, you’ll be facing a task scarier than mingling with the general prison population.