Saturday, March 02, 2013


We're so pleased to welcome this weekend's guest blogger Frederick Ramsay. Fred was a university professor, insurance salesman, and community college instructor before he finally settled on becoming an Episcopal priest, at which calling he excelled for much of his life--until he decided to retire and become a novelist and all-round raconteur.

I grew up during the era when they were called comic books, not graphic novels. I guess that dates me to sometime before The Flood. Back then my preference ran to Looney Tunes, but I did get to read other titles. For the price of a Dixie Cup (5 cents) one could read the comic books in the rack at Field’s Drug Store and even though I thought Batman and Superman were superior in every sense to other pretenders, I did occasionally read Captain Marvel. For those of you too young to know (and those too sophisticated to admit it) Captain Marvel was an occasional hero. That is, his avatar, Billy Batson, worked as a boy reporter (Young Adult nowadays) who, when confronted by obvious evil would slip away and utter the magic words, SHAZAAM. At that instant a bolt of lightning crashed down from the heavens and transformed him into the afore mentioned Captain Marvel. He would then take care of business and once done, revert to his role as reporter.

What has any of this to do with writing, you ask? Patience.

I, and I think most of my writerly colleagues, are constantly bombarded with questions from folks who want to know how we do it. They want to know what software we use, what hours do we devote to writing, and when and where. We describe our day, our schedule (if any) and so on, for them. There seems to be an assumption on their part that if they could just get the formula right, their journey to the New York Times best seller list would be assured. These questioners seem to ask, “is there a secret and if so what is it?” All of which brings us to Captain Marvel.

The thing I am guessing most kids my age believed (but only with the passage of six or seven decades are willing to admit), that if shouting SHAZAAM did not produce the magical bolt and transmogrify us into the Captain, then it must have something to do with pronunciation, or timbre, or … you get the idea. So, after an afternoon or two in the woods where no one could hear me, attempting as many variations as I could imagine, to say the word correctly, I came to the reluctant conclusion that I was not marked by the gods of super heroes to be transformed.

Writing involves writing, not software, (I wrote my first novel with a fountain pen on a stack of yellow legal pads). It is not about ergonomic chairs, focus groups, hours, word count, outlines (or the lack thereof), or any of the things folks latch onto to justify putting off actually writing. Writing is just that—writing. It can be good, bad, trashy, brilliant, or just ordinary. The Zen query, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it exist applies to your writing. If it never gets put down in a form that someone else will see, it very decidedly does not exist.

To be fair, I think most of the questions about “how we do it” stem from a need to be motivated, to be inspired, and to feel confident. The questioners rarely take notes which makes me suspect they are asking more for affirmation than any real need to know my work habits or equipment. The simple fact is most of us can point to a person or an event that moved from the hesitancy of self doubt to putting the first words on paper. That being the case, I always answer the questions, but I also add the caveat: That none of it will make a particle of difference unless you sit down and begin. A bad chapter written is more valuable than a perfect one still in your head.

So, What I learned at age ten: I you want to be Captain Marvel. Buy a red union suit with a lightning bolt sewn on the front, and a white cape. Go to the gym and get really buff, and learn to fly. Yelling SHAZAAM won’t do it.

If you want to be a writer, listen to the advice offered, read the books on how to, adopt the parts the fit, discard those that don’t, and sit down and write.


(next time—the Myth of Writers’ Block, or: Was Juliet correct when she said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?)
Fredrick Ramsay is the author of thirteen mystery novels, including the Ike Schwartz series, featuring a Jewish ex-CIA operative who decided to come in out of the cold to become the sheriff of the small college town of Pickettsville, VA. Fred's latest release is Holy Smoke : a Jerusalem Mystery, from Poisoned Pen Press. Check out his complete list here.


Tina said...

A writer writes -- wisdom from Throw Mama from the Train, and now you. Must be worth something, this advice!

j welling said...

Just what I needed to hear this morning after pouring over writing reference texts last night. A little application of effort is what I need.

I enjoyed the essay.

Donis Casey said...

I'm afraid I've discovered that even if you've got genius, Pulitzer-winning ideas, it doesn't matter if you don't sit down and do it.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Sit down and write. Always good advice, especially when there are so many writing-related tasks to do that don't actually put words on the page.

Donis Casey said...

A bunch of which I am doing right this minute, Frankie

Toe Hallock said...

Dear Fred? Father Ramsay? I relate to your comments about Comics. In my day they were 10 cents, except the bonus ones which were a quarter. D Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and Comics and Stories were my favorites. Anything by Carl Barks was the best. Also, we considered DC Comics superior to Marvel. Boy, how times change. Archie was likely third. But anything Dell was acceptable. In my opinion, these inspired a desire to read, and later to write. SHAZAAM! Yours truly, Toe.