Today I looked at my bookshelves. You see, I have a new book to put on them. My brother-in-law gave me one of the best books ever written about writing. Stephen King’s On Writing. I’ve read excerpts but never the whole thing, and I’ve never owned my own copy, so I was thrilled to get it. Let me share one of my favorite excerpts from the book with you:
“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. … Come to it any way but lightly.” — Stephen King, On Writing
I LOVE that quote. It hits the heart of my writing experience every time I read it. When I sit down at my computer, I assess my own ambitions for my writing. Maybe I have an idea I can’t wait to tap into my computer. Maybe I’m ready to get lost in that other world. Maybe I’m ready to try, anyway. Or maybe I just want to update my blog or maybe I’m…not. King goes on to say:
“…it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.”
On the days when I know I can’t take my writing seriously, I do find other things to do. If I know all I’m going to be doing is surfing the net or (worse) posting inane comments on Facebook all day, I go do something else useful. I’ve taken up cataloging my kids’ school library during these “off hours”, and I’ve found that I am far better off when I return to the writing I’m never very far away from.
So much for King. What really caught my attention when I looked at my bookshelves was another book about writing by Eudora Welty, also titled On Writing. I admit, I’ve never read this book. I bought it way back as a sentimental investment. I met Ms. Welty once, way back at some young authors’ conference or other. She was very old, and I’d never read anything she’d ever written, but she was what I knew I wanted to be: a published, respected writer. I was curious. Did she see writing as seriously as King does? I flipped through the pages and eventually came across this quote, which, to me, seems to indicate she does:
“We have the writer’s own vision of everything in the world when we place his novel in the center. Then so much is clear: how he sees life and death, how much he thinks people matter to each other and to themselves, how much he would like you to know what he finds beautiful or strange or awful or absurd, what he can do without, how well he has learned to see, hear, touch, smell—all as his sentences go by and in their time and sequence mount up. It grows clear how he imposes order and structure on his fictional world; and it is terribly clear, in the end, whether, when he calls for understanding, he gets any.” –Eudora Welty, On Writing
The last line of that rather lengthy quote gave me chills. Don’t we all want understanding at the end of the book? As I scanned the pages of Welty’s book on writing, I noticed she explores the relationship between reader and writer in a much clearer manner than I’ve ever seen before. In her many years of writing, Ms. Welty obviously established a very good understanding with her readers.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve grown a lot as a writer. I’ve discovered that just because I write books I want to write doesn’t mean that everybody will want to read them. I’ve discovered that even when they get published and read, my books won’t always establish that connection with the reader that I strive for. And yet, if I’m going to ask my readers to take me seriously as a writer, I have to, as King advises, never come to it lightly. I have to approach writing as a business. It’s a business you have to stick with, you have to work at, and the you must, at all costs, constantly strive to get better at it if you hope to connect with your readers.
This year, I’ve written a few blog posts I was sort of proud of about writing. Nothing compared to King or Welty, but I haven’t had their careers yet. Most of these are either about my impressions of what writing is like on this side of success or were responses to articles I’d read about writing or publishing. In case you missed my brilliance the first time around, I thought I’d include links to my top 10 favorite blog posts of 2012:
1. “Embrace your velvet-cloaked vampire: Go ahead and publish that book”
2. “How to make your setting into a character…and why you should”
3. “Self-published and proud of it: Stop squelching the new voices”
4. “Confessions of a Contemporary Romance Author”
5. “Music that isn’t mine or why there’s a gay woman in Where the Heart Lies: About Lulu”
6. “How a chronic beginner finishes writing a novel”
7. “Slacking Off: Writing is Hard Work!”
8. “Vanishing Literature or Just Disappearing Ink?”
9. “Playing with emotions: What do you want to feel when you read?”