There's a sub-folder in the My Documents folder on my hard drive simply called Richard's Words. There are more than 570 items in that folder; the majority of which are articles I've written for publication on the web either for my own blog or for other sites. If you count the documents scattered throughout the computer that have been moved into other folders for other projects the number becomes more than 600.
Sitting by itself is another document that's around 340 pages long written during the same period but for another purpose. That file is my attempt at telling a story for other people's pleasure, the same way I've taken pleasure in the writings of others. In fact, each time I sit down to write I set out to entertain, inform, or perhaps amuse, so I can give people some of the same experience I get when I read the people I particularly enjoy.
I used to joke if I wanted to read something I liked I would have to write it myself, which if you think about it, is conceit beyond belief. What I hadn't realized was what a tough audience I can be. Try writing a story you want to read some day and you'll see what I mean.
In theory you'd suppose it would be easy, right? You know what you like to read, what kind of characters you like, what kind of writing you appreciate most, and what you look for in a novel. Well, there be plenty of slip twixt mouth and pen – or something like that anyway.
First, there is a huge difference between reading a story and enjoying it and sitting down to write one. Can I hear a round of Duh from the peanut gallery about now? How about not stating the obvious for a change? But the obvious is sometimes something we miss in the flurry of excitement, believing we've found a solution to a problem.
When you sit down and write the story you would like to read, learning to write it well enough to tell it in the manner you like can turn into a horrendous obstacle. Most of us can't just sit down and produce something that's suitable for more then birdcage lining or fish wrapping at our first go.
Non-fiction, which is what I primarily write on a daily basis (although some might say otherwise about my politics, but that's another thing altogether) is quite a bit easier to write than fiction as long as your goal is to simply inform and provide analysis. Have an opening paragraph to introduce your story, and then tell it in the subsequent paragraphs, citing examples and source material as needed.
If you are arguing a point, introduce your hypothesis in the opening paragraph and then prove it over the remainder of the article by finding information from credible sources to substantiate your claims. Your credibility in both cases is increased when you pay proper attention to the rules of whatever language you happen to be writing in. It also helps if you are able to make your point as neatly and succinctly as possible.
With blogging the personal essay has begun to make a comeback. Authors like E. B. White, who aside from having written Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan for children was considered the foremost essayist of his day, would write about experiences in their lives and use them as examples or expressions of a philosophy of life.
You start to realize the difficulties involved in writing when you begin to understand there are very few E. B. Whites or William F. Buckleys (to give the right their voice too) on the web and the results aren't usually up to their level. This type of non-fiction is a prelude to fiction writing. It requires the author to have a far better command of language as a prerequisite, and the ability to imbue their writing with personality, wit, and style.
But even this is still a quantum leap removed from the ability to write even the simplest of stories. Successful essayists have had difficulty making the transition, although E. B. White didn't seem to have a problem, Will Buckley's attempts at fiction were far less successful. There's a quality to fiction writing and story telling that calls for more than just the technical ability to organize thoughts and ideas on the page in a coherent fashion, although that is an essential prerequisite.
Creative inspiration, the muse, passion; whatever you want to call the it that provides the impetus for people writing something inspiring and enjoyable for others to read is a part of the formula, but not the whole picture. Anybody can have a good idea or be inspired; it's what you do with it afterwards that separates the creative person from others. Do you have the vision to take a flash of thought and turn it into something bigger?
When I had the idea for my series of novels, I immediately saw the characters' story laid out for me like a road map. I could see almost everything I needed to know, even down to the tiniest of details like how they would be sitting around a fire in book two and I hadn't even begun to write book one yet.
That is not to imply the book wrote itself, because it didn't and it still isn't. Unlike previous attempts where I've worked from only a vague notion of what I wanted, I know pretty much exactly what's going to happen all the way across hundreds of years and generations to come. Whether or not I tell the whole story is another matter, the fact I know the information is what's important.
It's like the actor who creates a history for the character he's playing on stage, probably no one in the audience is going to know what the information is directly, but it will make his performance all the more assured and complete because he knows it. A fiction writer can only benefit from that kind of assurance and confidence. It goes a long way to making what you're writing believable if you can believe in it.
Soon after I came to the startling revelation there was the world of difference between writing and reading, I had a further epiphany. If you're going to write, write about something you want to read about. I had joked earlier about the only way I was going to read a story I liked was writing it, but that's a lot closer to the truth than you'd think. There is no point in sitting down and putting all that effort into something if you're not interested in it. It's going to be crap for starters and you're going to hate every minute of doing it that sort of defeats the purpose of being creative.
Working in the arts as a way of making your living is as close to taking a vow of poverty as you can get these days. Which means, like those friars and nuns of old who took vows of poverty, you're going to have to make damn sure yours is a true vocation not just a phase you're going through. Unless you're really lucky and happen to be like Steven King and John Grisham in that what you like writing about also happens to be what's extremely popular, you're not looking at making oodles of money.
You have to get your fulfillment in areas other than monetary most of the time, which means you better be writing for the sheer pleasure of writing a story that brings you pleasure because that may be your only reward. If you're very lucky, maybe you'll get to see other people read and enjoy your work as well, which even if you don't receive a penny for it is an amazing experience.
In my time writing over the past few years my total sales at Lulu.com, my print on demand publisher, has been about $30.00. But that doesn't seem to have slowed down my productivity. Everyday I get up and sit down at my laptop and begin to write something to post on the web. Some days it is a even a short piece of fiction, but more often than not it is a review of somebody else's work: music, book, or movie.
I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate. Every day for this last while I've been able to do what I want to do. By doing it, I improve little by little. I've already received one rejection from a publisher for my first novel, and the completed manuscript is even now winging its way into another's waiting arms. I've had a quote from one of my book reviews appear on the dust jacket of a book I'd reviewed and I'm on first name basis with people whose work I respect and admire as writers and am treated as a fellow writer which always sort of surprises me, but makes me feel proud as well.
I've always been a voracious reader and it now seems like I've become a writer as well – truly the best of all possible worlds.