The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 316
Hot off the Presses
I’m writing this Thursday, July 2, 2020. As I write this there is a drizzle falling upon my hometown of Olympia, Washington, and it is currently fifty-fix degrees.
On July 2nd!
We have the heat on!
On July 2nd!
If my conversion is correct, that is thirteen degrees Celsius.
On July 2nd!
Welcome to my world!
It’s definitely good weather for writing. It’s good weather for doing indoor chores. Visions of picnics or barbecues? As my friends in Philly would say, fogetaboutit!
I hope this finds you all healthy, safe, and happy. Let’s find out what’s on your minds today, shall we?
A Commentary on Life
From Liz: “Is writing a commentary on life?”
My best friend Frank, who recently went to that great forum in the sky, majored in Philosophy in college. It was the source of many a joke during those four years we studied together. “What in the hell are you going to do with a Philosophy degree?” we would ask him, and he would just smile at us and say “I don’t know. I just like to think about life.”
So this question, and my answer, Liz, is dedicated to Frank.
Hell yes writing is a commentary on life! About five-thousand years ago the Ancient Sumerians began scribbling down information about their culture, and man has been doing the same ever since. Every story, every article, every memoir and journal and diary reflect who we are as a species and thus becomes an ongoing commentary on Life.
Ain’t it cool? You are a part of a tradition dating back 5,000 years, and 5,000 years from now someone will discover one of your writings, and that person will sit down and read your thoughts, and thus the connection will continue.
I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
From Mary: “Sometimes, I wonder about being motivated to write. Why are some writers motivated and others not?”
Holy cow, Mary, I’m not sure I can give a definitive answer to that one. Man is a complicated creature, and my guess is there are multiple reasons why someone is lacking motivation.
Clinically depressed? Check! A history of being told they are not good enough? Check! Lack of self-confidence? Check! Just plain lazy? Check! Dead tired from working two jobs and raising a family? Check! They are all valid reasons to explain a lack of motivation.
There was a span of about twelve years when I had no motivation to write. It was called my “Alcoholic Period,” and not one word was transcribed. I was much too busy drinking away my brain cells.
So I feel a bit inadequate to answer this question. I will say this, though: a person with writing talent is doing us all a disservice by not writing. We, the reading public, are being deprived of an artistic endeavor, and I think that’s a shame anytime that happens.
How Long to Write a Book
From Jessica: “I’m attempting to write a novel. How long do you think it should take me to complete it? Or is that a silly question? Thanks in advance.”
I don’t think it’s a silly question at all, Jessica. If you’ve never done something, it is quite natural to want to gather information about it. Committing to writing a novel is a huge commitment of time and energy, so go into it with eyes wide open.
Unfortunately, my answer is going to sound more philosophical than it is concrete. It will take you as long as it takes you, and not a minute more.
All things being equal, when I’m not spending too much time with customers, I can write a novel in six months. However, when life is slowing me up, it can take me a year to write one. And there are some days I don’t feel like writing, and some days I write like the proverbial bat out of hell.
And then we can have a discussion about length – will it be 70,000 words or 100,000 words.
Plan on a year, and if you do it in less time, celebrate!
What Do Readers Want?
From Lizzie: “I’m playing with the idea of writing a novel for the first time. I know, from your advice and the advice of other writers, that the first page or two are crucial in ‘hooking’ the readers. My question is this: what do readers want when they pick up a novel and start reading?” Can you give me an answer which applies to most readers?”
It’s an interesting question, Liz. I was going to answer with one word, namely entertainment, and be done with it, but you specifically mentioned the first page and hooking a reader. So now I’m wavering on that answer just a bit.
I think readers want an answer to this specific question: why should I continue reading this novel? That question is the basis for “the hook.” As novelists we must give the readers a reason to continue. Obviously, everyone wants to be entertained and informed, but when talking about that opening chapter, or the prelude, we have to get down and dirty. We have to hook them with a reason why they simply must continue reading for fulfillment. And really, that applies to articles and nonfiction books as well.
Good luck to you Lizzie!
From Adrian: “When are you going to stop writing? Or when do you think it’s a good time to stop writing?”
I can only answer this one for myself, Adrian, but I will call it quits when writing is no longer enjoyable for me. Until that day arrives, I’m just going to keep pouring out words for my entertainment and hopefully the entertainment of others.
Having said that, obviously, if I have a debilitating stroke tomorrow, my answer will change. Lol
Or, I could paraphrase Charlton Heston in his speech to the NRA and say “I’ll quit writing when they pry the pen from my cold, dead fingers.
And that is the only time in this lifetime I will paraphrase anything mentioned in an NRA meeting.
On a related note, Bev mentioned, the other day, that she thought it would be a good idea for us to get a gun for protection what with the COVID scare and people being so desperate. Strange times indeed when this old Peacenik considers the pros and cons of purchasing a handgun. The thing is, I understand where she's coming from. No matter how badly I want peace on earth, there are violent people out there who will do evil things, and no amount of "talking" will stop them once they've broken into our home.
One more thing to think about!
I was out walking the dogs yesterday and I passed by a house where a woman was sitting on the front porch wrapped in a quilt.
On July 2nd!
Okay, I’m over it!
Today I’m going to plug in the circular saw and cut some lumber for the porch-extension I’m doing. It’s good weather for outside labor, so I’m done whining about it.
I hope you have a great week. Stay safe, stay healthy, and be happy always.
And please, remember, do all things with love.
2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”