Writers Hate Writing. Really?

I guess it used to be hard to write a novel, scribbling across the parchment with your quill, fretting every time you make a mistake, blotting the ink… Even a young 50-year-old like me wonders how he ever typed college papers … remember Tippex anyone (I believe it was called White Out here in the colonies)?

So now everyone’s a writer. I get it. But what I don’t understand is the complaining about writing. I opened a Writer’s Digest this weekend, an old one from the end of 2012, and it was full of articles on Writer’s Block, discipline, and how we need to force ourselves to write.

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In the space of 24 hours, I was interviewed by a high school student who kept asking about writer’s block, discipline, and how I maintain my focus; then I was invited to speak at a workshop on Writer’s Block.

In the aforementioned issue of Writer’s Digest, there are articles and a hilarious graph (way to go Zachery Petit) on doing everything but writing. One article is about overcoming writer’s block without willpower, another has you spending an hour or so writing and the rest of the day doing all kinds of wonderful “author” things like visiting bookstores and doing field research. There is an article about extreme measures authors took to keep their “butt in the seat,” including Frank Burrows who would chain himself to a chair and drink lots of Tab (a soda that is pretty torturous in itself) so that his bladder was bursting, I assume.

William Styron is quoted as saying: “I certainly don’t enjoy writing. I get a fine warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it: Writing is hell.”

The author of the article continues: “I get it. I get why writers hate writing.”

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I don’t! I really don’t! If you don’t enjoy writing don’t do it. There are things we all have to do: taxes, flossing, cleaning the bathroom, but not writing. Sure there are hard times: when the plot doesn’t work, or when your heroine does something out-of-character, but to hate writing?

I LOVE writing. I can’t wait to fire up my laptop and pound the keys. When I am not writing, I become frustrated and (according to my family) pretty darn annoying. I LOVE the thrill of the unknown plot twist. I CRAVE the company of my characters, and I RIDE the adrenaline rush of the scenes unfolding under my fingertips.

When a beloved character fails or dies, I cry. When battle is joined, I apparently mumble and wince out loud as people are wounded or killed. I have never learned how to type properly (touch typing?), but my fingers fly across the keyboard as I get increasingly excited. Sure there are many squiggly red and green lines, but I can worry about that later.

When I finish a novel, the first thing I want to do is celebrate. The second thing is to start the next book. In my own fantasy world, I would just write the novels. Others would edit, market and do all the other ‘stuff’ that authors need to do these days. I just wanna write.

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I don’t mean nothing else. I love my day job and feel I am, as Steve Jobs expressed: ‘helping to put a dent in the world.’ I love my family and am truly blessed to have a soul mate who tolerates me with all my quirks. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

The high school student asked at the end of our interview:” “When do you know you are a writer?” I answered that it’s when you never leave the story, even when you are doing something else. It’s when you crave returning to the computer and when you take immense pride in the story unfolding.

That is my answer. Every author probably has something different to offer and I am sure they are all right. But I hate writing just doesn’t make any sense.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree,  and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flame, the fourth in the series.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

 

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All He Had To Say Was Thank You

There is an urban author’s myth of a now famous author in her undiscovered days – was it Janet Evanovich? – who spoke at a bookstore in a mall with pouring rain outside. She knew the audience would be sparse as the mall was empty, and to cheer herself up, she bought a box of chocolates from the store next door. 

Only four people turned up and she made them sit in a circle and gave them each a chocolate. They were silent as she spoke and read, and asked no questions. At the end three got up and left. The fourth thanked her and the author asked, rather desperately, if she wanted to buy a book. The woman laughed and said that all four were homeless, and just thirsted for a little culture so the bookstore allowed them to attend. The author felt compelled to give her a copy of her book and the rest of the chocolates.

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I recently went to a book reading of an author who is struggling to break through, like me. We had met a few times and I have offered advice at various stages. I dutifully spread the word of his book launch to my social and e-circles, attended the reading, and bought a book.

Not many people turned up and even less felt inclined to buy the book. He was disappointed and the bookstore staff was not too excited either. When I asked him to sign my book, he mumbled a weak thank you and scribbled. I don’t think he ever made eye contact with me, and I felt a profound sense of resentment.

This is reality for all but the 200 or so A-listers. The rest of us may have 50 people in attendance or 5. It is hit-or-miss and this is probably a significant reason why adopting an online marketing strategy makes sense.

To celebrate the first Wycaan Master trilogy and the Eric Hoffer Book Award, I held a celebration in my hometown at the iconic Games of Berkeley at the end of last year. There was a strong attendance, but I put a lot of time into advertising and most of those attending had already bought the books. It was not a good return on investment if I look at it through economic eyes alone.

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But I loved doing it. I loved my friends who came and read parts, I loved the Q&A, especially the questions from the younger members of the audience, and most of all, I loved the conversations and the excitement of my readers – yes, for one afternoon they were all mine!

I sincerely hope that those who attended left happy and committed to my series and me. I especially hope that the young people were inspired to continue reading and, who knows, maybe put millennial quill to parchment. 

I have heard many times that my author-hero, Terry Brooks, is an inspiring author to meet. I hear he shares a conversation with everyone bearing books, and that he is a delight to be with. I can believe that after reading this passage in his book, Sometimes The Magic Works. He says that book signings are not about selling books or advancing your career. He say…oh why not just let him say it:

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“It is not in fact about you at all.

Rather, it is about making a connection between readers and books. It is about making readers feel so enthusiastic about books that they cannot wait to come back and buy more – not just copies of your books, but of other authors’ books, as well. It is about generating a feeling of goodwill toward the bookstore and the staff. Mostly, it is about reassuring everyone that they did not waste their time on you. 

How do you accomplish this? …

…Speak to everyone. Make them aware of the fact that you are grateful to be there, anxious to chat, and ready to answer questions if they have any. Never sign a book without looking at and speaking directly to the reader, and then thank them for choosing to take a chance on you.”

I think I have always thanked those who buy my books. To this day, when a stranger tweets me that they just bought one, I feel genuinely touched and honored that they spent their hard-earned money on my books.

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And I thank them.

Maybe one day, someone will develop an app wherein I can put my hand through the screen and shake theirs as I thank them. Perhaps the 2.0 version will allow us to reach through and hug someone.

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The world would become a better place, for authors, readers and all humankind!

Have a great week,

Elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).