According to my publicity, I’m an Edgar Award winner, and a New York Times best selling author. My books have been translated into six languages, one of which I speak with a fair degree of fluency. This means that I get emails asking me to validate would-be writers’ preconceptions about writing and publishing. If those preconceptions are true, I validate them. If they are delusional crap, which is often the case, I write blogs such as the one you’re reading right now.
As I’ve been a professional writer longer than most of my readers have been alive, allow me to share the BIG SECRET. Get ready. I’m going to save you years of anguish, resentments and dismay. All your favorite authors write crap. All of them, without exception, crank out garbage. If you doubt me, ask them. They will, if honest, tell you the same thing. You, of course, never see the garbage, because it gets deleted, revised, tossed our or remains forever unpublished. Oh, there are exceptions. Not exceptions to writing crap; sometimes the crap gets published on the strength of past work, or contract obligation.
Sometimes your favorite authors can’t tell crap from non-crap. They sit and stare at their work and say to themselves, “this may not be crap.” Sometimes they are right. Mostly, it’s crap.
Obviously, we want to write well. We are driven to write. We love it. It is our joy, our vocation and our avocation. If I’m not writing, I feel guilty. When I write crap, the only consolation is knowing that somewhere out there, Elmore Leonard is saying to himself “I’m writing crap!” Maybe he doesn’t say that often, but he has said it at least once in his life, trust me.
So, is there a “Secret of Success” in the world of writing? YES. It is simple. It is a three step process.
First, learn how to write. That doesn’t mean learning how to type, or use pen and paper. You wouldn’t attempt auto repair without studying the topic. You wouldn’t attempt a medical procedure without an education in medicine. IMPORTANT NOTE: When Lawrence Block said that writing fiction was “telling lies for a living,” he didn’t mean that being a liar makes you a novelist.
Take classes from real teachers and instructors who will teach you the basics of how to write, be it creative writing, technical writing, research writing, grant writing, biographical, historical or whatever. So called “writers groups” are often the blind misleading the sightless. Unless you have a professional at the helm, you have the ill informed advising the ignorant.
Once you learn how to write, decide to write. Start writing. You will write crap. That’s okay. You will be still be writing crap in forty years, but you will know it’s crap.
Now, most important: FINISH IT.
When you finish it, it will probably be a big piece of crap. If so, find out why. Don’t get stuck trying to defend it. Either fix it or write something else.
Now, here is the REALLY BIG SECRET OF SUCCESS. The sooner you start the process, the sooner you will be a real live honest-to-God writer. The longer you wait, the more you screw around looking for the non-existent Northwest Passage, the farther away you remain from success. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. You start at the beginning and you work and work and work and work and then, when you’re done, you work some more. You take advice from your editor, you rework, you revise, you re-structure, and you do it because you love the process of writing.
You see, that’s the REALLY BIG SECRET about writers. We are in love. We are not in love with the idea of being writers, or the idea of being published authors. What we love is the real life process of writing, and everything that goes with it. Yes, you will put up with a lot of crap, and produce a lot of crap. But as F. Scott Fitzgerald said to Hermann Melville, "If you can't take the crap, stay off the keyboard."