Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writers Write, Billy

I know tons of people who want to write a book. 

Maybe it was the easy success of She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named with those vampire books, but at least three people within a couple of blocks of my house all say they're writing books. 

So when my son came home one day and said, oh, by the way, so-and-so from work is writing a book about a boy who grew up in Needles, California, my husband announced, "Everybody is writing a book. I'm going to write one." 

And he made one up on the spot, about a kid who grew up in Needles, California. My kids quote the entire thing on a regular basis, which isn't hard, because it's really short. Here it is:

"It sure is hot out here," said Billy, as he looked across the barren wasteland that he called home. "Mom, can I have a cookie?" 
"Sure, Honey, it's the least I can do since we live in such a crappy place," she said, wondering why she'd ever married a man who would move to a place like Needles, California.

That's it. The end. He never finished it. 

Most people don't. Yeah, everybody wants to write a book, but that doesn't make them writers. Writers write. Every day. And they keep on writing. And revising. And submitting. And reading about writing. And revising. And writing some more. And submitting again. And reading some more about writing. And writing again. And they keep on. Sure, they take breaks, but they always get back to writing again. 

Two days ago someone told me about a friend who writes but has decided she's quitting because she hasn't been able to get published. I know someone else who gave up after her first rejection, because it was too demoralizing to try again. 

Julie posted this on our One Page a Day Blog. It's by Sara Zarr (Once Was Lost): 

"Sometimes I think I could have just as easily not been a writer. For example, by not writing, because of fear or self-doubt or not feeling entitled to give it a try. Or by watching more TV instead. Or giving up when I couldn’t figure out what happened next in a story, or after the first five years of rejection, or after I lost my first agent, or after the second five years of rejection. Et cetera. I’m still aware, every day, that this career is mine to keep or lose. There are lots of things from the business side of things I can’t control, but if I don’t keep writing I definitely will not be a writer."

It's funny how ten years of sweat and dues-paying seems to be the magic number before publication for many writers (except a certain writer of vampire books, but that's just kind of freaky). It's good to keep in mind that Sara Zarr and even Madeleine L'Engle had their ten. Rejection and persistence is part of the job. 

And after reading this I remembered, oh, yeah, summer is over and so is my break and the house is silent and if I don't get to work NOW I might not be a writer anymore; I might be a former writer, for which I have no excuse, because I have a book begging to be written about a slave boy, and he's haunting my dreams. Or nightmares. (And no, his name isn't Billy from Needles). He won't shut up and when I try to suppress him the way I've been doing all summer he gets into my psyche and makes me a crazy person with weird disorders. I should probably deal with him so I can pretend to be sort of normal again. 

Because yes, Billy, you do have to write to be a writer (and to be sane, if you're me). And you have to get past the first page and keep on and not give up, ever; otherwise it's just a little hobby, like flying remote control airplanes in the park, and you might as well be watching soap operas, because real writing isn't that kick-back. It's a job. 

"Hey," my husband says, "I'm going to publish my story. I might even get published before you do." 

Ok, I tell him, but you should probably finish it first. And that first page might need a little revision. Um, maybe a lot of revision.

*Disclaimer: I did not write the Billy story. Really. My apologies to anyone who lives in or anywhere near Needles, California or the Mojave desert. I'm sure it's a lovely place to live. 

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