The thing about writing is no to talk, but to do it; no matter how bad or even mediocre it is, the process and production is the thing, not the sitting and theorizing about how one should write ideally, or how well one should write if one really wanted to or had the time. As Alfred Kazin told me: "You don't write to support yourself; you work to support your writing."
I am a writer as I might have been a doctor or a lawyer. It is so pleasant a profession that it is not surprising that a vast number of persons adopt it who have no qualifications for it. It is exciting and various. The writer is free to work in whatever place and whatever time he chooses; his is free to idle if he feels ill or dispirited.
Most people have little interest in how plumbers fix sinks or how electricians wire houses. Moreover, in terms of how these skills are learned and applied, there isn't much diversity. But when it comes to how a person produces a novel, short story, or a work of creative nonfiction, there is plenty of interest and diversity. Published writers are always being asked when they write, how many hours a day they write, how many words they get down on paper daily, exactly where they write, what they write with, and so forth. In the world of writing, matters such as these, referred to as work habits, are fascinating and important. Such queries often extend into the creative process itself.
The Devil comes to the writer and says, "I will make you the best writer of your generation. Never mind generation--of the century. No--this millennium! Not only the best, but the most famous, and also the richest; in addition to that, you will be very influential and your glory will endure for ever. All you have to do is sell me your grandmother, your mother, your wife, your kids, your dog and your soul." "Sure," says the writer, "absolutely--give me the pen, where do I sign?" Then he hesitates. "Just a minute," he says. "What's the catch?"
Book reviews are written to be read: They are work done for others' enjoyment and edification; unlike some art, they are meant to inform an audience, not perform for one, and they usually follow a predictable pattern: name of book, summary of what book is about, followed by a competent, well-argued opinion as to whether the book's author achieved his or her aims.
I will be perfectly willing to autograph and oblige my readers in any way possible. I don't know what other writers are like, but I am always aware that it is from my readers that my income ultimately derives.
The only thing, I think, that happens to a writer as the years go by is a disturbing sense of impatience that time grows short. There's a built-in egotism to this. The quiet desperation a writer feels that he has yet to write the definitive play or book inside his head. It also assumes that a public waits with baited breath for his final and comprehensive word.
Starting in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, plot became a dirty word in literary circles. Fiction lost its way. A great novel comes when there is beauty of language, illumination of character and a great plot.
The vast majority of sociologists write in a language that has to be learned almost like Esperanto. It has a private vocabulary which, in addition to strictly sociological terms, includes new words for the commonest actions, feelings and circumstances. It has the beginnings of a new grammar and syntax, much inferior to English grammar in force and precision. So far it has an effect on standard English, the effect is largely pernicious.
Workshop-influenced fiction displays the hallmarks of committee effort: emotional restraint and the lack of linguistic idiosyncrasy, no vision, just voice; no fictional world of substance and variety, just a smooth surface of diaristic, autobiographical, and confessional speech.
The worst job in the world is writing. You're alone, you're with yourself, and either you trust your own judgment or you don't. And if your judgment is questioned enough times, you begin to question your own judgment as a writer. If enough people turn you down, you begin to question your own skill. Who else do you have to depend on? It's you against them.
I was released four days ago after 40 days in the drunk looney bin. Turned myself in for treatment to kick alcohol and light drugs right after the July 4th  weekend, which I barely remember. Detoxed at Washington Hospital Center and then spent a month at a plush drunk tank for such folks. Feel better than I have in a long time and have experienced no strange cravings. Believe I'm gonna be okay.
Apparently, it's in fashion again--the notion that the creative impulse, with its accompanying emotional difficulties, is merely the product of a psychology disorder. The current favorite diagnosis for artists and novelists is bipolar disorder--a condition that used to be called manic depression.
I hoped to be a writer, but it was not until I had published my fifth book, All My Friends are Going to be Strangers, that I became convinced that I was a writer and would remain one.
Journalists mostly don't expect to be liked--Vanity Fair is not paying its writers big money to write nice things about their subjects.
Probably at least 85 percent of the books I've inscribed both to friends and strangers have found their way into the [book] market, and rather rapidly.
To this day it is not easy to get started in fiction, but the speed with which self-publishing has been established is making getting started a good deal easier....Much trash will get published, but then much trash is published even by the most reputable publishers.
Minor writers provide the stitchery of literature. Besides, major writers often find themselves writing minor books. Major writers aren't major all the time, and minor writers occasionally write better than they normally do, sometimes producing a major book. The commonwealth of literature is complex, but a sense of belonging to it is an important feeling for a writer to have and to keep.
Never discount luck, in the making of a literary career, or any other career, for that matter.
If your aim is to land a contract with one of the major book publishing houses, you probably will need an agent to represent your work. About 80 percent of the books these conglomerates publish are purchased through agents. Some of the largest houses won't even consider submissions from unrepresented writers; when they get manuscripts directly from the author, the author usually gets a short form note advising him to get an agent.
The advantage to the big publishers in dealing only with agents is that agents know what editors are looking for and won't submit work that isn't salable. The agent's reputation, and therefore his ability to succeed as a agent, rides on submitting only the best--not just in terms of ideas, but also in terms of presentation and research--to only those editors who are appropriate for the project. The publisher saves enormous time and expense by allowing agents to do the work of shifting through submissions to find the real gems.
Like most writers, my principal connection with the literary world has been through books and magazines. I've read hundreds of books and articles about writing, publishing, and the writing life by well-known writers, how-to authors, editors, literary agents, critics, journalists, and writing teachers.
Besides literary biographies and autobiographies, as well as the published letters and journals of literary figures, I enjoy reading memoir/how-to books by celebrated writers. Examples of this genre include The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer, On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing by George V. Higgins, The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham, On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, None But a Blockhead by Larry L. King, and Chandler Speaking by Raymond Chandler.
My library is also stocked with collections of author interviews such as the Writers at Work series featuring the Paris Review interviews conducted by George Plimpton and his colleagues. Interviewees in this eight-book series, which ran from 1958 to 1981, include Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, John O'Hara, John Cheever, and James Jones.
I also like to read so-called "conversation with" books, collections of interviews featuring a single writer such as Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Graham Green, Tom Wolfe, and Eudora Welty.
While I've corresponded over the years with a handful of well-known authors, I've only had one literary friend. That person is the mystery writer Ross H. Spencer who died in 1998.
I have a great ambivalence about interviews [of authors]. I believe writers should be read and not heard from. There are certain writers whose personalities are more responsible for their reputations than their writing. [They] use their personalities to make their works popular. I resent that, because they get far more attention than their work merits. And other writers who are really much better, but who are quiet and invisible souls, are not noticed at all. Part of me wants to be totally anonymous. The writer who I really admire most for his image is B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; he was totally unidentified in his lifetime. I admire that.
In traditional hard-boiled crime fiction, if the hero is a police officer, he'll be the departmental maverick, too honest and decent to engage in office politics yet laser-focused on nailing the perp. Often there's a murdered relative, almost always female, to juice this crusader's motivation. His marriage will have fallen apart because he's too stoic and too devoted to the job to sustain a real relationship. But he'll be devoted to his kid and is a one-woman romantic at heart, even if hardly anybody ever gets near his heart. He'll brood a lot and go home alone. He'll have a temper but a righteous one. He might drink too much or be too ready with his fists, but that just makes him a bit of an antihero, that familiar figure from cable TV dramas…
It's all getting awfully predictable, which may explain why this reader can't bear to finish yet another novel about such a hero. I've found, instead that the crime novels I open with the keenest anticipation these days are almost always by women. These are books that trespass the established boundaries of the genre by lingering over characters who used to serve as mere furniture in the old-style hard-boiled fiction. They may dare not to offer a solution to every mystery or to have their sleuths arrive at those solutions by non-rational means. Their prose ranges from the matter-of-fact to the intoxicating, and the battlefields they depict are not the sleazy nightclubs, back alleys, diners and shabby offices of the archetypal detective novel, but a far more intimate and treacherous terrain: family, marriage, friendship.
Harsh criticism can harm our creative process, but so can a reliance upon praise. Praise is nice, of course. It feels good to get a positive response to our work. That ego stroking shouldn't be why you write, though. If you become dependent on praise, your creative flow gets displaced. You become removed from your own source.
Screenwriting is a brutal, ridiculous calling. Sure, if you want to become a lawyer or a doctor, it's hard. It's a ton of work, but it can be done and once you've graduated from med school or law school and passed all of your exams, there are jobs out there….And there are people who need your services.
But screenwriting is different. There are hardly any openings for gainful employment, and if there are a few jobs, you must compete for them with established Academy Award-nominated writers….
"Being a writer is hard, being a professional writer is even harder, and being a working Hollywood screenwriter may be the hardest of all.
Since the 1950s literary critics have written hundreds of volumes about autobiography as a genre. The questions they ask come from literary theory. Is autobiography just another form of fiction? A bastard form of the novel or of biography? What sort of story can anyone tell about her or his life when its end is as yet unknown? Is it possible to translate the chaotic ebb and flow of experience into a narrative form with a beginning, a middle and an end? When so much of our consciousness is visual, or nonverbal, how much of it can we convey through the limited medium of words? Can anyone be both subject and object of the same sentences--the speaker and the subject spoken about? Why is this drive to engage in scrutiny of one's own life so characteristic of the West?
Humor is difficult. Other kinds of stories don't have to hit the bull's-eye. The outer rings have their rewards too. A story can be fairly suspenseful, moderately romantic, somewhat terrifying, and so on. This is not the case with humor. A story is either funny or it is not funny. Nothing in between. The humor target contains only a bull's-eye.
Film and television have convinced too many writers that heaps of dialogue make novels more like movies and therefore good. This is an amateur's fantasy, and it has induced some writers to surrender the few advantages they have over cinematic storytelling.
The movie maker is stuck with what the camera can see and the microphone can hear. You have more freedom. You can summarize situations. You can forthrightly give us people's histories. You can concentrate ten years into ten words. You can move anywhere you like outside real time. You can tell us--just tell us--what people are thinking and feeling.
Yes, abundant dialogue can lighten a story, make it more readable and sparkle with wonders. But it is pitiably inadequate before what it is not suited to do. Exposition, for example: the "five w's"--the who, what, when, where, and why of a given situation. Jimmying this information into a visual background through performance and dialogue is cumbersome stuff.
The attitudes between men and women have to be politically correct even when you're writing Regency and Georgian period historical romance novels. You're going to alienate readers if you have terribly domineering men and very submissive women. That might be an historically accurate way to look at men and women, but you really can't get away with that in modern novels. You have to somehow skirt around that and make the heroes sensitive to women and respect them even while obviously they were more domineering than modern men would be. You have to do the corresponding thing with women. They have to be a little less submissive.
I wrote my first novel when I was a freshman in college and submitted it to a first-novel competition--I believe it was the Bennett Cerf competition. I thought the book had an outside chance, and I was enormously proud to have fathered such a wonderful creation at the age of nineteen. It was rejected with a short "Dear contributor" note, and I was too crushed to show that book to any publisher in New York.
Referring to serious writers who sell out to Hollywood, a character in Rod Serling's play Velvet Alley says: "They give you a thousand dollars a week [1960s] until that's what you need to live on. And then every day you live after that, you're afraid they'll take it away from you. It's all very scientific. It's based on the psychological fact that a man is a grubbing, hungry little sleaze. In twenty-four hours you can develop a taste for caviar. In forty-eight hours fish eggs are no longer a luxury, they're a necessity."
A character in B. Traven's story "The Night Visitor," who has written several books he has chosen not to publish, contemplates literary fame: "What is fame, after all? It stinks to hell and heaven. Today I am famous. Today my name is printed on the front page of all the papers in the world. Tomorrow perhaps fifty people can still spell my name correctly. Day after tomorrow I may starve to death and nobody cares. That's what you call fame."
B. Traven, the pen name of the mysterious author of dozens of novels--notably, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre--believed that all books should be published anonymously. He based this belief on the notion that readers, by knowing in advance who the author is, will expect and demand a certain kind of book. (If Agatha Christie, for example, had come out with a hard-boiled crime novel instead of one of her cozy mysteries, her fans would have gone nuts.)
These days, you don't have to be a parent to be familiar with popular teen book titles like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games or Twilight. These titles have sold millions of copies of books and spawned merchandise empires, been adopted into blockbuster films, and have permeated our pop-culture lives.
Young adult literature is a booming business and has been one of the fastest growing book categories for publishers in recent years with more than 715 million books sold in 2013…Even though this genre is aimed at audiences 12 to 18, more non-teenagers are picking up these titles. In fact, a 2014 report showed that 77 percent of young adult literature buyers were actually adults, with the largest segment of buyers--43 percent, ages 18 to 29…And given the difficult economic climate the publishing industry has faced over the last few years, more young adult buyers has been a blessing…
The phrase "writer's block" was coined by an American, a psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler…In other ages and cultures, writers were not thought to be blocked but straightforwardly dried up. One literary critic pointed out that the concept of writer's block is peculiarly American in its optimism that we all have creativity just waiting to be unlocked. By contrast, Milton, when he could not write, felt that he was empty, that there was no creativity left untapped.
If writer's block is more common in the United States, it would not be the first weakness that is peculiar to our culture. The modern American idea of the literary writer is so shaped by the towering images of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald struggling with every word, that there is a paradoxical sense in which suffering from writer's block is necessary to be an American novelist. Without block once in a while, if a writer is too prolific, he or she is suspected by other novelists as being a hack.
New technology brought new possibilities for horror film makers of the 1980s. Soon the emphasis shifted to gore for gore's sake, and the film genre fell out of favor with mainstream audiences. But the horror novel was enjoying an excellent reputation for quality writing, despite the growth in formulaic shocker stories. In 1981, Thomas Harris published the first novel in his Hannibal Lecter series. This novel remains one of the most commercially successful portraits of a serial killer, and it heralded the start of the serial-killer craze of the ensuing decades…In recent years, the archetypes of vampires, werewolves, and zombies have come to dominate the horror genre.
There is a co-dependency between science and science fiction. Many scientists and engineers acknowledge that science fiction helped to spark their imagination of what was possible in science…
Sometimes science fiction authors just make things up, but untutored imaginings tend not to make the best science fiction. As JBS Haldane put it: "the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." We need scientific input to sustain a rich science fictional imagination…
Some science fiction writers are (or were until retirement) full-time scientists and academic researchers in their own right. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, who coined the term "Big Bang", claimed to write his science fiction in order to publish ideas that would not fit into scientific journals. Back in the 1960s, Fred Pohl edited The Expert Dreamers and Groff Conklin edited Great Science Fiction by Scientists, with stories by George Gamow, JBS Haldane, Fred Hoyle, Julian Huxley, Norbet Weiner, and others. Some authors who were originally researchers have been successful enough to quit the day job in favor of fiction…
Not all science fiction writers have science PhDs. Many of the Golden Age writers had little formal education. James White, for example wanted to be a medical doctor, but couldn't afford the training; that didn't stop him writing the marvelous alien doctors in space series called Sector General. Many science fiction writers have arts and humanities backgrounds, yet manage to write good hard science-based science fiction.
"Genre fiction" is a nasty phrase--when did genre turn into an adjective? But I object to the term for a different reason. It was clever marketing by publishers to set certain contemporary fiction apart and declare it Literature--and therefore important art and somehow better than genre writing.
The term sneaks back into the past in an anachronistic way, so that, for example, Jane Austen's works are described as literary fiction. This is nonsense. Can anyone think for a moment that were she writing today she'd be published as literary fiction? No, and not because she'd end up under romance, but because she writes comedy, and literary fiction, with rare exception, does not include comedy. [Literary novels are humorless. Perhaps that's why they call it "serious fiction."]
Jane Austen never for a moment imagined she was writing literature. Posterity decided that, not her. She wrote fiction to entertain and to make money which is what we novelists have been doing ever since. Perhaps in our serious and solemn way, we ask fiction to bear a burden it was never intended to carry.
I define a true crime book as one involving a murder. It's not about art theft, it's not about governmental cover-up. It's really a case involving a murder in which there's an investigation and usually a trial....The best of the true crimes give you some insight into characters, usually the character of the killer, and the situation that produced the crime.
...crime does pay--especially if you are a writer.
The [true crime] market is women, and the ideal perpetrator is a white male serial sex killer, or conspiring white couple sex killers, or anyone who kills before, after, or during sex.
The main audience for true crime works, according to publishing houses, is generally the middle class with more women than men buying the books. There is also a fairly strong teen market, and books of regional interest have specialized markets. For example, both Texas and the Pacific Northwest are strong locals for the true crime market.
All [true crime] stories must be post-trial, with the perpetrators convicted and sentenced at the conclusion....We also prefer that cases involve not more than three suspects....Do not pinpoint the guilty person too early in the story because it kills suspense...Use active writing, avoid passive constructions. Remember that detectives probe, unearth, dig up, ferret out, determine, deduce, seek out, ascertain, discover, hunt, root out, delve, uncover, track, trace, and inspect.
I prefer an unpublicized case in which I am the only person writing about it because the people involved are so much more willing to cooperate and be interviewed. Publishers, of course, want a story that's been splashed all over television, magazines, and newspapers.
I start every book with the idea that I want to explain how this seven or eight pounds of protoplasm went from his mommy's arms to become a serial rapist or serial killer. I think a crime book that doesn't do this is pure pornography.
Children's books are not watered down adult books. They demand certain abilities of their authors, not the least of which is that of being able to tap into the minds and souls of young people and to project the voice of those people to the reader. You, as an experienced adult, have to see things objectively and yet have the ability to recall feelings and attitudes and viewpoints of your early years to the point that you can write about children convincingly.
The first time we heard of Ernest Hemingway's death  was a call from the London Daily Mail. I found it shocking. He had only one theme--only one. A man contends with the forces of the world, called fate, and meets them with courage. Surely a man has a right to remove his own life but you'll find no such possibility in any of Hemingway's heroes. The sad thing is that I think he would have hated accident much more than suicide. He was an incredibly vain man.
The detractors of romance novels--usually people who haven't read any--often say the stories are simplistic and childish, and they contain no big words and very little plot--just a bunch of sex scenes separated by filler and fluff. A common view of romance is that there's only one story; all the authors do is change the characters' names and hair color and crank out another book.
Critics of romance also accuse the stories--and their authors by extension--of presenting a world in which women are helpless. Romance, they say, encourages young readers to fantasize about Prince Charming riding to their rescue, to think their only important goal is to find a man to take care of them. The books are accused of limiting women by idealizing romantic relationships, making women unable to relate to real men because they're holding out for a wonderful Harlequin hero.
In fact, rather than trailing behind the times, romance novels have actually been on the cutting edge of society. Long before divorce was common, for instance, romance novels explored the circumstances in which it might be better to dissolve a marriage than to continue it…
Even early romances often featured working women and emphasized the importance of economic independence for women. While some heroines are indeed young, inexperienced, and in need of assistance, the usual romance heroine is perfectly competent. Finding her ideal man isn't a necessity; it's a bonus.
Modern romance novels tell a young woman that she can be successful, useful, and valuable on her own; that there are men who will respect her and treat her well; and that such men are worth waiting for.
The schlemiel story is a genre I always thought I'd avoid if I were an editor, for it has seemed to me that stories about losers, twerps, dullards, and schnooks would be of interest only to an audience of losers, twerps, dullards, and schnooks, at best, and no such people would be reading anything I edited.
There's a difference between a vocation and a profession. A vocation is a calling--something you are called to. A profession is something that you practice. In the United States, I think about 10 percent of the novel writers actually make a living our of their novel writing. The others have the vocation, but they can only partly have the profession, because they have to spend the rest of their time making money in order to keep themselves in their habit. They are word junkies. They've got to pay for their fix. I chose university teaching because there was a long summer vacation, and also because you culd fake it.
Descriptions of the setting are easily overdone, often clumsy. Through a misplaced sense of obligation to describe a setting exhaustively, many young writers get into what I call the setting fallacy--that is, they start the story with a whole paragraph describing the sky, weather, or a city street as the protagonist walks into a bar.
I think I was born with the impression that what happened in books was much more reasonable, and interesting, and real, in some ways, than what happened in life. I hated childhood, and spent much of it sitting behind a book waiting for adulthood to arrive. When I ran out of books I made my own up.
An idea is not a story. A first draft is not a story. A moral is not a story. A character is not a story. A theme is not a story. A plot--now, that's a story! So where do I get me one? You might ask. At your writing desk. Because plots don't exist. They can't be shopped for or ordered on-line. They are coaxed into being. They develop. They grow in the course of the writing.
Creative writing classes and workshops tend to be gentler than writer conferences, but in all of these situations you may find yourself sitting around a table with a number of other writers who feel morally and aesthetically compelled to rip your story to threads.
William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are probably three of the most notorious falling-down drunks in the literary history of twentieth century America. There were followed by Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and John Cheever, whose drinking habits became well-known components of their literary lives.
One could argue that erotica is either a subgenre of "romance" or a separate literary category. Many romance authors sneak raw sex into their books without calling them "erotica" to avoid limiting the market for their titles.
Less than a lifetime ago, reputable American writers would occasionally start fistfights, sleep in ditches and even espouse communist doctrines. Such were the prerogatives and exigencies of the artist's existence, until M.F.A. [Masters of Fine Arts] programs arrived to impose discipline and provide livelihoods. Whether the professionalization of creative writing has been good for American literature has set off a lot of elegantly worded and soul-searching and well-mannered debate.
The trail of literary history is littered with those writers who fell along the way because the anxiety of trying to write paralyzed their hand. Many non-writing writers are gifted. The best writers I know teach school and sell real estate. Some still plan to write "someday." Others have given up altogether. Their block lies not with their ability or skill but with their nerve.
Every time a writer tells the truth about a manuscript (or book), to a friend-author, he loses that friend, or sees that friendship dim and fade away to a ghost of what it was formerly. Every time a writer tells the truth about a manuscript (or book), to a stranger-author, he makes an enemy. If the writer loves his friend and fears to lose him, he lies to his friend. But what's the good of straining himself to lie to a stranger? And, with like insistence, what's the good of making enemies anyway?
When I went to writing school, I craved rules. I craved a mentor, and the revelation of secrets, and the permission to write scads, and most of all I craved the confirmation that I could write. In other words, I was like practically everyone else.
If novelists keep writing fiction much past sixty, they usually become their own recycling unit, reworking, with less verve, veins already well explored. Self-repetition, if not self-parody, are the traps that await elderly novelists--yet few novelists voluntarily flip off the switch, either because they can't afford to financially or because they simply don't know what else to do with themselves. They grow old, they grow weak, they wear the bottoms of their trousers rolled, but they keep writing.
I was trying to get my work published, first with poetry, then with articles and stories. But they got nowhere at all. There was a steady flow of rejection slips. Once in awhile, a handwritten word, "Sorry, thanks, try us again." The stories, two-hundred and fifty of them a week, were, with one exception, amazingly bad. But I thought, these people have made this effort. You can really only judge a writer by his best work. Maybe these are all just lapses. I wrote, "Sorry, try us again," on all of them. I had to stop writing the notes.
Unsurprisingly, a psychological survey of the Iowa Workshop showed that 80 percent of writers in the program reported evidence of manic depression, alcoholism, or other lonely additions in themselves or their immediate families. We're writers. Who ever claimed we were a tightly wrapped bunch?
The really popular books are full of cliche`s, people "flushing with anger" or "going pale with fear." Popular authors bring nothing new to their readers, and I have no wish to belong to that type of popular writer.
We sometimes speak of academic writing, of courtroom transcripts, of material that does not compel our attention or elicit a strong desire to continue reading as dry. What we mean by "dry" is that it does not enable use to see what we read, it does not move us, and, most important, it does not stimulate our intellect with insight, its ostensible purpose.
Isaac Asimov complained that none of his books were ever reviewed in The New Yorker, even though, as a well-known writer, he had been mentioned in the magazine many times. The reason: he was not taken seriously as a novelist because most of his writing was science fiction. Wallace Stegner, a brilliant novelist and nonfiction writer who lived in and wrote about the American West, was never reviewed in the New York Times even though his novels, Angle of Repose (1971) and Spectator Bird (l976), won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award respectively. Why did the Times ignore Wallace Stegner? He was not part of the Manhattan literary scene.
No one is waiting for you to write your first novel. No one cares if you finish it. But after your first, if it goes well, everyone seems to be waiting. You go from having nothing to lose to having everything to lose, and that's what creates the panic.
Thinking you can make a living just by writing books is like thinking you'll get rich by growing corn in West Virginia. For the great majority of published authors, writing is a vocation supported by a primary occupation--the dreaded day job. During the day, writers are cops, reporters, lawyers, physicians, office clerks, bureaucrats, sales associates, receptionists, nurses and real estate agents. The lucky ones, although they seem to complain the most, are the college professors teaching in English (Richard Russo calls them "Anguish") departments. The poet and novelist Delmore Schwartz gleefully declared himself "self-employed" after quitting his professorship at Harvard. A few years later, however, economic reality drove him back into teaching at Kenyon, then later at Princeton. Still, the Stephen Kings and J. K. Rowlings of the writing world keep the dream of literary wealth and fame alive.
The writer possess a reality of a different order than that of the ordinary man. His ego is entirely identified with his creative processes which for him constitutes the entire meaning and purpose of his life. He is known to be emotionally unstable, neurotic, and often appears mentally unbalanced or even psychotic. Genius and madness have from time immemorial been associated, and the lives of the creative artists and geniuses in all fields do reveal an overwhelming preponderance for erratic conduct, emotional stress and irrational reactions with definite psychic disturbances manifested in conflict, struggle and mental disorder.
I admire honest hacks, ghost writers and pulp novelists who make no claim to literary distinction, but are content selflessly to batter out reading matter for the semi-educated millions on an old typewriter, and raise large, happy families on the proceeds.
Writing is at the very least a knack, like drawing or being facile on the piano. Because everybody can speak and form letters, we mistakenly suppose that good, plain, writing is within everybody's power. Would we say this of good, straightforward, accurate drawing? Would we say this melodic sense and correct, fluent harmonizing at the keyboard? Surely not. We say these are "gifts." Well, so is writing, even if the writing is of a bread-and-butter note.
I keep to what amounts to a seventy-hour week, if you count all the ancillary jobs of proofreading, indexing, research and so on. In the past six years, I have averaged a book a month. I'm not sure if my work habits should be imitated. I don't have set hours for working. I just write whenever I feel like, but I feel like it all the time. I do very little research, because I have been reading avidly all my life and remember virtually everything I read. To back me up, however, I have developed a personal reference library in my office of some two thousand books or so in all fields.
A friend of mine turned in a paper to a college course on behavior modification. She had tried to express in simple English some of her reservations about this increasingly popular approach to education. She received the paper back with the comment: "Please rewrite this in behavioral terms." It is little wonder that human beings have so much trouble saying what they feel, when they are told that there is a specialized vocabulary for saying what they think. The language of simplicity and spontaneity is forced to retreat behind the barricades of an official prose developed by a few experts who believe that jargon is the most precise means of communication.
How many things are we afraid of? We're afraid to turn off the lights when our hands are wet. We're afraid to stick a knife into the toaster to get the stuck English muffin without unplugging it first. We're afraid of what the doctor may tell us when the physical exam is over; when the airplane suddenly takes a great unearthly lurch in midair. We're afraid that the oil may run out, that the good air will run out, the good water, the good life. When the daughter promised to be in by eleven and it's now quarter past twelve and sleet is spatting against the window like dry sand, we sit and pretend to watch Johnny Carson and look occasionally at the mute telephone and we feel the emotion...that makes a stealthy ruin of the thinking process.
All eighteen of [romance novelist Nicholas Sparks'] novels are best sellers; eleven of them have been translated to the big screen. Sparks has continually served up exactly what Americans seem to crave: stories populated by perfect people who are never haunted by lingering questions or long-held doubts. All ambivalence is temporary, and by the end, the answers are crystal clear. Hard work get results. Goodness is recognized. Beauty is magical. Love fixes everything.