Thursday, April 21, 2016

Guest Blog: Less Talking, More Writing

Very lucky to have the wonderful Steph Post (A Tree Born Crooked) step in for me this week with a topic I think we can all relate to.  Enjoy! - Alex

“Adventure is just bad planning.”- Roald Amundsen
Back in college, I was a “pack the dogs and some eyeliner” kind of traveler. I lived for spontaneous road trips and cheap motels, for trouble, for the unexpected, for the next adventure just around the corner. I was also a poet. Angry, angsty. Dashing off verse in the local coffee shop while glowering at all the people who didn’t understand me. Half-drunk, standing in the middle of the road, screaming stanzas up at the pouring rain. That kind of angst. We’ve all been there to varying degrees. Yes, you know you have, and you know it, too.
But then, as I suppose often happens, real life settled in. I spent less time scribbling poetry and more time waiting tables to pay the bills. Then came grad school. Then teaching. A few short stories here and there. An absolutely terrible novel draft. A halfway decent one after that. Life moving along, my dream of one day being a novelist still hazy somewhere on the horizon. 
About three years ago, I was sitting in my living room complaining. Blah, blah, I know I’m meant to be an author one day, but how will I ever find the time, so on, so forth, blah, some more, blah. I was complaining to my husband who is, thankfully, not a writer. He’s a firefighter. He saves lives. He doesn’t have time for bullshit. So, basically his response was: “quit talking about being a writer; be a writer, already.”
His words hit me at just the right time and place in my life. In previous years, I probably would have snapped back something about “art” or “inspiration” or “muses,” but I was finally ready and his words were the spark I needed. Quit talking. Start doing. I changed my mentality about the writing process and the writing life. I still worked from inspiration, of course, but I framed it within a schedule. I made myself disciplined. I put in the hours. Day in, day out. I fought, I pushed. My first published novel, A Tree Born Crooked, was the result.
I’ve often said that writing is like a war. And for me, the comparison truly fits. It’s a fight all the way, from the first few words scrawled on the back of the bar tab to the printed page, and I’ve always been a fighter. After my first novel, I wrote Lightwood (due out January 2017 from Polis Books) and then switched genres from Southern Crime to Historical Literary Fantasy for the novel after that. Now I’m back to Crime as I work on the sequel to Lightwood, but I’m also researching for the next book, going back to Lit Fantasy. And that’s where polar exploration and Amundsen come in.
I don’t know how many books I’ve already read on the subject, but I’m back to reading another about Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott’s race to discover the South Pole. Everyone’s heard of Scott, what with his dramatic tale of scurvy, struggle and finally death in the frozen jaws of the Antarctic, heroism in the face of insurmountable odds and all that, but he didn’t discover the South Pole. Amundsen did. The Norwegian explorer didn’t suffer a harrowing fate in the name of king, country and everlasting glory. He was smart, he planned and prepared for years, he understood the task he was undertaking and he just went out and did it. Nobody died. It wasn’t easy, certainly, but it wasn’t a disaster, either. He didn’t talk; he just discovered.
So many years ago, I thought that being a “real writer” was akin to being Robert Scott. If you didn’t bleed onto the page, if the story didn’t come forth in a dramatic rush of inspiration, if you weren’t inches away from an emotional breakdown, then the piece wouldn’t really be worth reading. Now, I find being a writer more like being Amundsen. If you really want to be successful, to accomplish your goals, then you need to be in it for the long haul. You have to plan and work, you have to put in the hours. You have to talk less and write more. You have to put your head down and march on through the snow. Robert Scott wanted to be an explorer. Amundsen was an explorer. 
Back in those blood-and-thunder college days, I wanted to be a writer. Now, I am a writer. And I know the difference.

1 comment:

Dana King said...

Well put. I've belonged to a writers group for 15 years and worked with many talented and eager writers, but the one thing I can say without fear of contradiction is that there are a LOT more people who like the idea of being a writer more than they like actually being a writer. Good on you for getting over the hump.