Recently I was scouring a thrift store for vinyl records when I came across a pile of books about the writing craft. Each one had the initials E.C. scrawled in its inside cover.
I couldn’t help but imagine E.C. shaking his fist at the sky as he dumped his dream into a donation bin and got on with the business of teaching or accounting or pumping gas or whatever else feels less like pissing in the wind.
I own a similar collection of “how to be a writer” manuals that I pored over in my early 20s. Besides the endless pointers on style and technique, these books stress the need to silence your inner critic and negotiate time and space in which to write with dedication. Good and necessary advice. But here’s what they don’t tell you. Here is the secret to becoming not just a published writer, but a good one…
Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work.
Just like a basketball player who dreams of being in the NBA might stand on a patch of uneven concrete beneath a flickery streetlight for hours on end, night after night, shooting three-pointers while solving angles and speed and thrust and how to focus one’s quirks rather than subdue them until SWISH! SWISH! SWISH!, so must a writer spend years stewing in her own words as she figures out how to dredge an imaginary plot and setting and characters from the depths of her mind and arrange a story onto the page so intact that we can all examine it and say, This has to be real. A writer must create situations that make strangers cry or fret or become enraged the same way real life does– except that in a novel, the experience is slowed down and allows the reader contemplation in a way that real life can’t. Reading a book can change a person’s life. Thus, a writer’s work is very important. It demands precise attention, god-like patience and endless trial and error. It can take a lifetime to gestate a living breathing story then give birth to it with all its fingers, a strong heart, and a signature wail so loud and beautiful it draws people from all over the city, or the province, or the country, or sometimes even the whole world.
Don’t give up, E.C. If you want to be a successful writer, you cannot expect results for a very, very long time. Nor should you. If this doesn’t put you off the journey, congratulations and buy a bottle of whiskey: You’re a writer.
As for those how-to books…
Writing can’t be taught, but that doesn’t mean writers shouldn’t try to help each other across their story’s tightropes and through its gordian knots. Sometimes a three-point shooter needs a coach’s eye, someone whose been in the game long enough to suggest, “Try aiming three centimetres to your left.”
This spring, that coach is me. I’ve been invited to each a fiction course at the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. I’ll post details and enrollment instructions once they become available. The course is open to anyone.
Even you, E.C.
P.S. – I bought your books back for you.