by Leslie Jones
I hear it over and over again:
“I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I don’t know where to start.”
“I tried writing a book, but I never got past the third chapter.”
“I read a lot. I could write a better book than <insert poor maligned author here>.”
So many stellar authors have, over the past two thousand years or so, written great works of thought-provoking, life-changing literary fiction. Hemingway. Tolstoy. Voltaire. Dostoyevsky. Salinger. Aeschylus. In the more modern publishing world, there are equally amazing genre books, as well. Dune. The Hobbit. The DaVinci Code. The Stand. Winnie the Pooh. Watership Down. The Silence of the Lambs. The Day of the Jackal. Gone with the Wind. The Hunger Games. Harry Potter. Outlander. Game of Thrones. I could go on and on and on.
If you’re considering writing a book, or are trying to write one, I’ve got a few bits of wisdom to share with you.
- “I hate writing, I love having written.” ― Dorothy Parker. Talking about being a writer is not the same thing as being a writer. Wanting to have written a book is not the same thing as writing a book.
- “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” —Philip Roth. Writing is hard work. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s joyful. But it’s always, always hard work. If you have an idea that keeps gnawing at you, that keeps you up at night, that begs to be written, don’t stop writing until you type The End.
- “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” —Ray Bradbury. Writers write. Every day. During lunch hours, on a subway heading home, on the weekends. We don’t wait for inspiration or for the Creative Muse to come sit on our shoulders. Inspiration is great! Hard work is more useful. Tell your story.
- “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” —Ernest Hemingway. Writing is a learnable, teachable skill. No one is born knowing how to write. Good writing comes from lots and lots of practice. Take classes, sit in on workshops, listen to experts in the field. They’ve been where you are, every single one of them. If they offer helpful criticism, analyze it to see if they’ve got a point. Don’t let your ego get in the way of writing the best book you can. Learn. Practice. Grow.
- “The first draft of anything is shit.” ― Ernest Hemingway. The odds are that your first book will not be a bestseller. It might, in fact, be total crap. That’s okay! Rewriting and revising are important steps in the writing process. And some books are simply meant to be practice – written and then put away under the bed. I have five practice books hidden under my bed. They should never see the light of day. Move on to the next story. Write a better shitty first draft. And then another.
- “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” —Stephen King. When you finally land that contract, your book will need editing. Good editors are amazing creatures – no matter how good your book is, they can help you make it better. Listen to them, evaluate their advice, and act.
- “The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.” —Joyce Carol Oates. Starting is the first step to writing a book, yes. But continuing to write, every day, is a job. Maybe to you it’s a hobby, and that’s perfectly fine. But if you really want to publish a book, you can’t stop after three chapters. There are fifty other chapters just itching to be written.
- “There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” —Doris Lessing. There’s no silver bullet, no one-size-fits-all, no secret to success. What works for me might not work for you. There’s no formula that will catapult you to the top of the bestseller list. Practice, practice, practice.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – writing is hard work. Anyone who believes they can slap a few words on a page and end up with a bestseller is probably delusional. Does it happen? Sure. Are you that one in a billion? Maybe. But probably not. Writing a great novel, whatever your genre, takes commitment, dedication, a thick skin, and sweat. Probably some blood and tears, as well. But if you have a story churning inside you, let it out. You’ll feel better. And the world will thank you.
Leslie Jones is an award-winning and RITA® nominated author who writes military romantic suspense because she loves sexy alpha heroes and strong heroines. She is truly grateful to the men and women of our Armed Forces for their dedication and sacrifice. It is because of them that we sleep well at night.
She’s been an IT geek, a graphics designer, an Army intelligence officer, and an Army wife. She draws on her military experiences when she writes. She’s lived in Alaska, Korea, Belgium, Germany, and various other exotic locations (including New Jersey). Moving every few years made her an expert in relocation. Thankfully, she’s been stable in Arizona for more than twelve years now. There aren’t many who understand her love for the raw, primal beauty of the Southwestern desert. It teems with life. It boils life down to its essence. Survive, or don’t.