How many of you have books about writing books? Books that promise to make you a writer in a year or less, or to write that novel of yours in your spare time? How many of them are collecting dust on your bookshelves, or taking up space in your Kindle or Nook?
I have a lot of these books. Many of them were required when I was going through school as an English major with a creative writing concentration, as well as Psychology. Some of these books were given to me as a child, for winning awards in writing in school, to bolster my spirits after reciting a grief-laden poem at my Grampy’s funeral, given to me by friends and family. I never actually bought a single one just to help myself, yet somehow I’ve accumulated at least dozen, if not more. Some I read, or at least perused, and some look as if they just came off the printing press. What I’ve never been able to gather from any of these books is the thing they most frequently promise: how to become published.
Oh, they have lots and lots of advice on “writing so much every day” and “making a special place just for writing;” some advise to just write whatever comes into your head for a period of time, then go back and see if any of it is worth keeping. They never really answer the question though. How do you actually do it? How do you sit, day after day, week after week, month after month, working on a piece of writing, whatever the genre, and not go completely insane?
I think none of these books can answer that question because, for as many published authors there are, there are that many ways to go about it. So, why is it that I can’t find one? Just one? I’ve gone through these books, I’ve gotten myself inks, old fashioned typewriters, an electric typewriter, a netbook, an iMac, even some fancy pens (I do like to hand write, although it takes so much longer… and I did enjoy banging out pages on my bright yellow manual typewriter I found on ebay). Seems that once I start to get “into” something, the turmoil begins. The circular path of “it’s not good enough, edit, now it’s worse, take out the editing, now I see why I edited it in the first place” begins, and usually ends with me putting anywhere from a couple paragraphs to a few dozen pages of text away. Away from me, so I don’t have to see it for a while.
What is “a while” though? Is it a few days, a few weeks? The last serious book endeavor I embarked on was in 2009, when I started taking Master’s courses to get my MA in English. That year also happened to be the spark into my spiral of mental decay. I couldn’t tell you where those pages are now. Couldn’t tell you if they are tucked away in a folder somewhere or burned in a trash can. I honestly don’t know. What I do know is I don’t want to end up being one of “those people” who say, “Oh, I should write a book.” Let’s face it, almost everyone thinks he or she can write a book, should write a book. I’m not saying I’m any more or less talented than anybody else, but I received some words of encouragement from two very influential people in my life that I will never forget. The first was my high school AP English teacher, Ms. Krauss. Boy, did she put us all through our paces! No mercy with her for an English teacher, I can tell you that. She once asked us to write letters about what was going wrong with the class, as she sensed that we were “less than enthusiastic,” so to speak. The letter she wrote back to me I still have to this day. She told me that I have “the most natural facility with language of any student I have ever taught.” She then went on to tell me that this won’t give me a one-way ticket to a best-seller, but to nurture it, develop it, help it grow. The other came from my Advanced Creative Writing teacher in college. I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember her name, but I do know that she has passed on. She told me that I was “by far” the most talented student she has had in “many years,” and told me that, “It works if you work it.”
So, here I am, 32 years old, still not published. I feel like I’ve let them down, let myself down. I know I have a lot going on in my life right now, but that shouldn’t be an excuse, it should be a motivator. I just wish I could get myself to a point where I not only acknowledge that, but act upon it.
March 24, 2012