How Did This Happen?
I decided to be a writer when I was a freshman in high school. After all, what other profession allows you to (1) work anywhere, anytime you want, (2) ignore the conventional dress codes, and (3) make-up stories.
While fishing, I shared my decision with my dad. It went something like this.
“Dad, I’ve been thinking.”
This rare pronouncement caused my father to raise his eyebrows and give me a once-over to be sure I wasn’t in ill health.
“I’m going to be a writer,” I said.
As was his habit, he said nothing for a long few minutes, chewing over my conclusion. Then he said, “There’s no money in writing. Be an engineer. You’ll always have a job.”
As usual, I was disappointed with his answer but he was right. Now, Bill Bryson or Janet Evanovich or John Grisham may argue to the contrary but I was – and am not – any of those people. A few years later, I enrolled in an engineering college near Boston and for the next forty-eight years, I was gainfully employed as an engineer.
But then, in 2015, I retired and started writing.
However, the first aspect of being a writer that smacked me on the chin was this simple fact: writing is hard work. Really hard. You just don’t wait until inspiration strikes to sit down and write. If I did, I wouldn’t be getting much accomplished. My drill is first thing in the morning I fire up the laptop and get writing. The topic was decided the previous day in the afternoon when all my creative juices were dried up.
A painter with a fair amount of skill once told me the following: leave the painting at an obvious place to pick it back up the next session. That way, you start off by accomplishing this or that, and feel good about the effort. The same is true with writing. More than once I’ve left my characters hanging by their finger-nails, waiting for me to provide a solution. Good stuff.
Then there’s the business of writer’s block. My motto is “just keep going.” It’ll probably be rubbish but forward motion is essential. Dave Daniel, writer of mystery novels and excellent writing teacher at UMass Lowell, once likened a story to a shark: they both have to keep moving forward or they die.
Again, good stuff.
Then there are the days that try as you might, the characters take the day off. I suppose everyone needs a day off from time to time but really, I created those guys. Now they’ve gone and grown a mind of their own. On these days the internet comes to the rescue. When creativity is not in the cards, it’s time for research on the World Wide Web. Every story needs to have details verified, more powerful verbs chosen, and settings elaborated upon. Thank you Al Gore (or whoever invented the internet), because anything you want is at your fingertips. And let’s face it, stories with accurate detail, strong verbs, and colorful settings make for good reading.
Often I’m asked the following question: “Is what you write all true?”
My answer is a resounding NO.
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single story I’ve ever told or written that doesn’t have a fair sprinkling of obfuscation, exaggeration, or what I call, blending. (Blending is when I take a bit from one story and add it to another to add a bit of depth and color to a character or situation.) If you are looking for truth and accuracy, read nonfiction. If you want to be entertained, read my book.
I’m not particularly good at English grammar, and my typing skills would earn me an F in sophomore business skills class, and my vocabulary is mediocre at best, but one thing I am good at is this: I’m a keen observer of the people I meet. And because I’m always on the prowl for gripping stories with interesting characters, I listen with both ears when rubbing shoulders with my friends and neighbors. After all, what better characters than those who live among us?
And speaking of characters, Dave Daniel used to pound away at us with the following mantra: Simple Story, Complex Characters. Amen brother. In Good Intentions/Wrong Directions the characters are real, full of flaws, and genuinely likeable. I believe that’s what readers want: to fall in love, or at least connect, with the characters in a book.
So there. That’s a brief look at how I do it. What do you think?