Saturday, June 2, 2012

On becoming a...

As a kid I sometimes thought I'd be a writer when I grew up – at least when I wasn't thinking I'd be a professional baseball player. It wasn't because I wanted to be famous or that I thought myself especially creative – but I enjoyed reading good books so much that maybe I saw my life being connected with them somehow. It wasn't really a conscious thing either – I don't believe I ever said aloud that I wanted to be a writer – it was just sort of how I imagined my older self in some corner of my mind. But in the 80's, Business was portrayed in movies and television as the cool thing to do (remember Alex P. Keaton?). The work was easy, the money was good, and it looked exciting and important, and I guess I was swayed by that image.

Okay, so it hasn't turned out quite like that, but I had an aptitude for accounting and for the most part I have really enjoyed it. Still, there's that corner of my mind that thinks I should write... and about eight years ago I started. Obviously, when you work full-time and have a family and all the responsibilities of a grownup it doesn't leave much free time, and it turns out that writing – making stuff up – is a lot harder than I thought. But I've kept at it and I think I might actually be getting close to the end of my novel. Just the first draft, unfortunately.

But sometimes I read books about writing, like On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner. Apparently, Gardner was a "famous novelist" who wrote several "critically acclaimed" books – none of which I'd heard of though – and he taught a lot of prestigious writing classes at prestigious schools (he died in 1985). But as I started reading the book he sounded like a very cranky (and intimidating) elitist who says the only thing worth writing is "serious, honest fiction... the kind of fiction likely to survive." He frequently references writers like Faulkner and Joyce and Dostoyevsky, and sometimes even criticizes them! I thought about calling my review "On becoming an arrogant fat-head" or something like that, but got tired of him and quit reading...

... until I started it again, and realized that some of the things he said made sense. Even if you can't write like Dickens it's only "honorable" to write the best you can. And some things he said really resonated with me, like when you re-read what you've already written and it sounds like junk or how important encouragement is and how hard it is to find time to write and why character is important and how difficult it is to just make stuff up and how it feels when your characters come alive or when you write something where you finally get it just right! And I began to feel a connection with him, because I've actually been through some of the same struggles and felt some of the same emotions that he talks about. There's practical stuff too, like how to get the most out of a writing workshop and what to avoid, and how to find a publisher or agent, but most importantly he talks about having faith in yourself and not giving up.

And after eight years or so, I think that's what I needed to hear.


  1. I'm totally behind you 100%! I think it is so awesome that you would even want to write a book. Keep going, don't give up and I can't wait to read it!

    Love you!

  2. It's hard enough for me to find time to write, and I don't have kids! I can't imagine how tough it must be for you to find your writing time. I highly recommend Stephen King's "On Writing" as a follow up to this book. I think you'll see a different tone and perpective on the writing process there, as well as someone who has struggled to write while being a parent.

    You can do it! A page a day is a book a year! Hang in there!

  3. Thanks Rebecca and Ashley - the encouragement is appreciated. And I'll have to look for Stephen King's book; I've heard good things about it.