Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Writing War

Donis blogging today. If you are just tuning in for the first time in a few days, Dear Reader, please do yourself a favor and read the previous half-dozen entries. My fellow bloggers have put forth some particularly cogent thoughts on the writing life and the writing process, and if you are considering taking up the pen, or have been struggling with your own writing, you will gain some insight from this group of veterans of the writing war.

I have learned a great deal from other authors. I haven't yet discovered a good writer who hasn't in some way been enlightened about the craft by a master. Last year, I was privileged to spend an entire weekend participating in a benefit event with J.A. Jance, Sue Henry, and Betty Webb. As you know, J.A. Jance and Sue Henry are Big Time. Betty and I are, let us say, Up and Coming. We all stayed at Jance's home, and after the events of the day, we'd sit around on her patio and proceed to get -- well, I don't want to say "hammered". Perhaps "relaxed" is a better term. What I learned over that weekend was worth it's weight in gold to me, especially because it gave me hope. Even the Big Time Authors go through the same agonies as the rest of us. Two especially useful things to know are that even Shakespeare's first drafts looked like the dog's dinner, and that Babe Ruth couldn't have been the home run king if he hadn't more strike-outs than any other player. The great J.A. Jance honored us with that analogy.

I very much identified with Rick's post about teaching, which I would suggest you look at if you haven't. I like speaking and teaching workshops, as I'm sure I've mentioned, even though I was a schoolteacher for a lot less time than Rick ever was,and a lot longer ago . Rick is absolutely right that trying to teach something teaches you as much as it does the students. It makes you consider your own process. There's a little bit of magic involved in writing, and sometimes it's hard to figure out how you did it, much less tell anyone else how to do it. However - many years ago, I started a little Scottish import gift shop, and at first I was quite nervous that someone would ask me about something that I didn't have any idea about. Then I had a customer tell me that his ancestors originally came from the border between Scotland and Ireland, (they were mermaids, apparently) and I was never again worried that the patrons knew more than I did.

On May 1st, I'm going to emcee Carolyn Hart and newbie Hannah Dennison at Poisoned Pen Bookstore at 7:00. I jumped at the chance to do it, since Carolyn has been so good to me. She is an amazing supporter of mystery writers. In her "Death on Demand" series, the sleuth Annie is the owner of a mystery bookstore on one of the barrier islands in South Carolina who is continually talking about and recommending actual mystery authors. It's a great way to discover new mystery writers. In Carolyn's new book, Death Walks In, a watercolor picture of a scene from one of my books is hanging on the wall of Annie Darling's bookstore! Annie also recommends several excellent authors to a patron of hers, including one Charles Benoit.

And finally, I'll close with one of my favorite quotes. This is from the introduction to Steven Pressfield's remarkable book on writing entitled The War of Art.
"Are you a born writer? ... It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
"You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts...
"Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got."


Charles benoit said...

The Writing War? If that's the case, I want combat pay!

Donis Casey said...

We foot soldiers always get the short end of the stick.