Saturday, September 23, 2017

Follow Your Heroes

Once in a while, I get asked to speak to young people about writing as a profession. When the time comes to offer career advice, I ask them, Who are your heroes? Why are they your heroes and why can't you be a hero like them?

I ask those questions because when I look back on my life and see the direction it's taken, I realize that my way forward is along the path illuminated by other writers. Reading about inventors and moguls was hit or miss, so I was never destined to be a business tycoon. However, the biographies of literary greats like Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and F Scott Fitzgerald spoke to me. I understood their struggles. A favorite source of inspiration was The Red Hot Typewriter, a biography of John D MacDonald, and my takeaway was his blue-collar approach to his craft. He wrote every working day from 8-Noon, 1-4, and during his career he published over forty novels. In 1964, he published five! Using a typewriter! No whining about writer's block from him.

Another hero, though he's excoriated by the literary world, is Harold Robbins because of his steadfast application at putting words on paper and spinning bestselling yarns. And there's Anita Loos, a screenwriter who defied conventions to become a pivotal force in the movie business and invented that Hollywood staple, the romantic comedy.

Not all worked out for my heroes. It's no spoiler if I tell you that the lives of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Robbins went off the rails during their later years. On the other hand, while literary critics like to talk about the burdens of artistic genius and its toll on the writer's psyche, Burroughs, MacDonald, and Loos kept pecking away at the keys well into their sunset years.

What brought these thoughts to mind is that I'm close to finishing one project, the next and long overdue installment of my Felix Gomez series. Now I have to decide what next to dig into. Those of you who've written a book know what it's like to stand on the ready line for another long march. No matter my approach, it takes a year to eighteen months to write the first draft. I've tried schemes, like Chris Fox's 5,000 words-per-hour method, to shorten my turn around time, but when I do that my result is a pile of mush that needs serious editing so I gain little. I wish I had the focus of Cindi Myers who can crank out four-to-six novels a year. People who've attended a writing retreat with her say she easily produces 15 thousand words in a weekend. And it's quality work since since she's won numerous awards to include a Colorado Book Award. Another slayer of the word count is Kevin J Anderson who's hammered out more than fifty bestselling novels. I've been at WordFire parties and when the rest of us are about to start yet another late-night cocktail, Kevin says he's got to go write. That's dedication.

My heroes.


Charlotte Hinger said...

And what's really amazing is that some of these super fast writers wrote beautifully.

Mario Acevedo said...

So true. I wish I had that mojo.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

I was at a writing event a couple of years ago. We authors were asked how long we took to write our novels. I said, roughly two years. Two of my writing colleagues said five months. Yikes! The fourth member of the panel said five years. Phew! When it comes to writing it's a case of "know thyself" and do what works best for us. That said, I'm sure our publishers would prefer it if we produced five novels a year, or at the very least three ;)

Sybil Johnson said...

I wish I could write faster. I really feel like an underachiever at times.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Hi Sybil, I would love to write faster too. I am always relived when I hear there are other writers like me who take more time over their novels. I feel lucky I have a relaxed publisher as it must be very stressful writing to tight deadlines – oh, I so hate stress!