Monday, September 17, 2012

YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER? Make no excuses; take no prisoners

Since becoming a published author, the tables have turned, and I’m often asked for advice from unpublished authors. My first tendency is to answer them as I would when one of my sons comes to me, weighed down by the challenges in their life…I want to encourage and motivate, I want to tell them anything is possible if you work hard enough and believe in yourself. All of which is true, but it’s not the whole story.

Writing (or for that matter anything in the arts) is unlike most other professions; it’s the thing we do (at least at the start) while we’re doing something else. Some of modern day’s best sellers were doing something else while they wrote those first books…Stephen King and Dan Brown were teachers, John Grisham was a lawyer, and Mary Higgins Clark was a widow with five children who worked in radio.

And therein lies the rub. It becomes so easy to make excuses for not writing…my day job wore me out, the kids needed too much of my time, the house was a mess, the laundry, my parents, the lawn…on and on and on the list can go. And for most of us, there are often real hardships that crop up through the course of life; few are ever spared.

So my kids have gotten a bit older (22 and 19) and I now tell them what I’m about to tell you…get over it and work.

(I laugh a little as I write this. As the author of historical fiction, my ‘voice’ tends to be very formal and yet here I am spouting sage advice with the cutting edge of a hunting knife. But it is a chance for me to be nakedly honest, and I’m shedding my clothes with grateful abandon.)

If writing is the thing you need to do; if the longing to do it eats away at you like the lust for that one lover who haunts your dreams day and night, then get over whatever may lie in the path between you, and do the work.

While writing my first published novel, The Courtier’s Secret, my father was dying from cancer and I had just been diagnosed with Lyme disease after a two and a half year battle with undiagnosed pain and fatigue. I wrote my second, The Secret of the Glass, while my twenty year marriage was falling apart and my condition had become a chronic auto-immune disease. I’ve completed and published two more books (the latest, The King's Agent, earning a starred review in Publishers Weekly) during one of the nastiest divorces imaginable, a three year battle that still continues while I work on my fifth book.

But it was in those first few months of the divorce debacle that I actually wondered if I could write anymore. Though I have been writing since grade school, the harshness made me hollow, perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a writer. Unlike a nine-to-five job, a writer needs their heart and soul to put word on paper, and I feared mine were lost. I had become prisoner to my own sadness and self-doubt. But I was under contract and had no time to wallow in my own dark self-pity.

So I kept going. Yes, there is a bit of my angst on many of the pages (in the current work in progress, perhaps more than ever) but it works. And most of all, I kicked the excuses to the curb, and released myself as prisoner.

If writing flows in your veins like your life’s blood, then let the laundry pile up, let the lawn grow, let the house fester with dust, and write. If like so many, life has thrown down gauntlets of hardship, then put them in your work, allow whatever emotion you may be suffering to add depth to your characters and their own pain and hardships. Set yourself a firm schedule of when you’re going to write—even if it’s only Friday night from 8:00 to 9:00. Give yourself that gift; silence the excuses, release the prisoner, and write.


Gina said...

Donna, I love you - thanks for the best advice imaginable!

Unknown said...

Donna, thank you!

Unknown said...

Wonderful post. Most people don't know it, but most authors are heroes for having fought through the obstacles. Thanks for a terrific post, which I plan to share.

Lori Johnston said...

Wonderful post, Donna, with terrific advice. Thank you so much!

Donna Russo Morin said...

Thank you all; I'm so thrilled that my blunt philosophy has touched you. It is a tough lesson to learn, but one I have learned nonetheless.

Gloria said...

Well written, and great advice.

History Museum Through the Ages said...

Donna, thanks for this post! My two-year-old son is in the hospital (again), and after I switched off hospital duty with my husband last night, I picked up the rest of the kids from auntie's house, came home, put them to bed, and then wanted to crash. But I remembered reading this post when you put it up last month, and it inspired me to pull out the laptop and do a little writing on my WIP. 250 words, but better than nothing. Thanks for the inspiration!

Donna Russo Morin said...

Roseanne, So sorry I about your son (hope things are better now)) and so sorry for just now seeing this comment. I feel you've given me a great gift with your comment and I am grateful. 250 words under those conditions is a masterpiece. Best of luck and all my kindest wishes.