There ARE Three ‘R’s to Writing
In the old days the three R's were “Reading ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic” and were the standard curriculum for every school. You mastered those three and you were considered educated. The same more or less applies today, but we’ve complicated the concept a good bit.
For writers however, I suggest you apply the three R’s of the writer’s life. Reading, ‘Riting and Research are the writer’s stock and trade. You can’t do two of the ‘R’s’ without the third. Think of it as being a tripod. Each leg is as important to the whole as the other two are. Take one away and the other two crumble.
I’m sure not good enough to try to figure out which one I can do without.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but you might be surprised at the number of wannabe writers that don’t like to read much. This could be why they are ‘wannabes’.
The very successful novelist Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
What he is trying to communicate is that writers must read. They actually need to read even more than they write. There is no way we can find that ‘inner-voice’ that tells the story without reading other stories.
One or two books won’t do the trick either. I usually average reading 75 - 150 books a year, and that doesn't even include all the magazines, newspapers, brochures, cereal boxes and other odds and ends that I stumble onto daily. It also doesn't include the massive amounts of research that has to be done for the smallest of projects.
It doesn’t matter what you read. Just read.
William Faulkner pretty well summarized the idea by saying, “Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.”
I find the carpenter’s apprentice analogy particularly compelling. No one inherently knows how to write. True that some are born to write, but they still have to learn the craft somewhere. Studying and enjoying the writings of others is how we learn, grow and become successful.
Make yourself write…
As I travel around the country on various projects, somewhere someone will invariably ask me about writing. Everyone is interested in it, but it seems that very few do anything about it.
Just recently a lady approached me and said, “I have never understood how you can write a column every week, and now a novel!” Then she said, “I love to write, but I don’t know how to finish. How do you do it?”
I told her that my writing process is fairly simple. It comprises a four step process:
◾Park your tail in a chair.
◾Place your hands on the keyboard.
◾Don’t get up until you’ve written a minimum of five thousand words a day.
For the most part, it doesn’t matter what you write. Just write. Writing is a job. You clock in. You clock out. Just like any other job, while you’re there you have to work, or you will surely fail.
Ernest Hemingway put it best when he said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
I use what I call a ‘block notebook’. If the ideas aren’t coming, or the story won’t move forward for me, I just pull up my notebook and start typing anything. Gibberish, dogma, rants, whatever. I just keep writing until some form of cognizant thought begins to blossom in my little noggin again. Then I drop the block notebook down into the tray, and continue on with my original project.
Before you get too freaked at the idea of five-thousand words a day, just think of it as a bit over fourteen pages. That's probably not as imposing.
Some days my whole five-thousand words is in the block notebook. Some days not so much. But, I guarantee that the notebook is used every day. One of my favorite authors, Jack London said “You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
A few other thoughts on just sitting and writing:
· Don’t worry about your title, your marketing strategy, who the publisher or agent will be, or the design of your book. Write the book, and then worry about the other stuff.
· Your family, your “day job”, and the neighbor’s dog barking, are all just excuses for not writing. If you stop and think about it - you don’t need excuses to not write. Just quit.
But then again, if writing IS important to you, then you’ll find a way to get it done. I have worked a full work week my whole life. Sometimes it’s just easier to come home, have a sandwich, and relax. Yet my writing job calls to me, and on those days I struggle in, sit down and start to write. Sometimes it’s a bummer, but if you’re going to succeed it has to be done. Then there are the other days where you can't wait to get back to the story. Those are the days that make us a writer.
· Don’t get discouraged. Do the output and eventually it will all come together. It took me thirty years to come to a point where I thought I could be considered a writer.
In short, writers write, orators talk. If all you can do is talk about writing, then you’re an orator. I don’t recommend oration as a living. So go write and quit talking about it.
Never, ever underestimate research. If the story is the flesh of what we do, then the research is the bones. If you research poorly your story will collapse under its own weight.
If you present thoughts, quotes, facts or other points of view without statistics or other facts to back you up, I promise you’ll get called on it by a reader. Yes, some readers will check you on it too.
When you get called on it you’ll wind up looking like a fool. Fans will then become a rock throwing mob. This is probably not a good writing career move.
Good research also can brighten up a paragraph. As an example, I once wrote a passage about a young man opening up a chest to find it filled with cash.
The original description was:
“The trunk was packed full of money. Thousands and thousands of bills were packed in edgewise as tight as a tick. Sticking up out of the bundles of cash was an odd looking fifty dollar bill. I pulled it out and became instantly disappointed at our discovery.”
I thought (and rightly so) that this description was dull, lifeless and didn’t advance the story a bit. The next day I went to a coin shop and looked at various monies. I contacted a collector and discussed money. I went online and did exhaustive research about the Civil War, and how the Confederacy paid their bills. I visited the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC and went through all the money making processes of bygone days. Once I had the research done to my satisfaction I came back and rewrote the description:
The trunk was packed full of money. Thousands and thousands of bills were packed in edgewise as tight as a tick.
One corner of one of the bills was stuck up and folded over the rest of the pile. Looking closely I could just make out the number five in the corner that was exposed. Quick calculations already made us millionaires if they every one was all a five-dollar bill in the chest. This bank note was yellowed with age, so I took hold of it real easy and gently tugged the corner towards me.
I stopped pulling when I saw a zero appear by the five. I had myself a fifty-dollar bill, and each of us was a millionaire for sure if all the strongbox was fifties. What if there were some hundreds in there too?
I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as I slowly pulled the rest of the bills out of the pile. My heart hit my feet when I realized what I had in my hand.
The fifty-dollar bill wasn’t yellowed with age so much as it was printed on brownish greasy-feeling parchment paper. In the lower right hand half of the money was the date, September 2nd, 1861. In the center was a picture of a half-naked lady all draped over a wooden box like I was looking at now. Her right bosom was half hanging out of her shirt, and she looked right smug to be so exposed on a fifty-dollar bill... written in a sort of circle around the half-naked lady were the words “Confederate States of America” with the words “Richmond Va.” right below it."
It took six days of research to write those three-hundred words. Was it worth it? I thought it read better, and it did move the story along better, so I was happy. Also, I would challenge anyone to call me on the details after I saw a blue-million of those bills. Another advantage of that six day episode is that I have a lot of background research I didn’t use on that particular story. It will find a home somewhere someday.
In summary, I think that the great shoe manufacturer Nike focused the writing life down very well in one of their ad campaigns. I would offer the same sage advice to writers of any age…
“JUST DO IT.”
Please note that this essay took three hours to write and edit, with another hour of research for quotes and stuff. It will serve as 1,651 words toward my 5000 words-a-day goal. Ever onward...
What does a guy do when his best friend starts doing things that are completely out of character? In the case of Luke McAllister, you can’t do anything - until you figure out exactly what it is that is different. The fact that his best friend is a girl complicates matters a heap. Nothing makes sense when RaeNell Stephens, the girl that has “the best curve ball he’s ever seen”, starts blushing and acting like a durned female. All of this at the beginning of the ‘summer to end all summers’ too. This is the summer that Luke, RaeNell, and their friend Farley Midkiff set out to locate, and cash in on a rogue Civil War soldier’s stolen one million dollar Union payroll. Undaunted by thousands of scholars and fortune seekers having looked unsuccessfully for the treasure for a hundred years, the three twelve-year-old friends search diligently for themselves. What they find is an adventure that leads them on a spiraling path of discovery. They discover newness in themselves, their families, and the closeness of a small southern community in the process. Luke wrestles with his morality, ethics, and his slowly emerging awareness of the difference between boys and girls. He also discovers that his late father left him an incredibly large legacy of duty, fidelity and caring for those around him. The telling of the story takes place in imaginary New Caledonia County, NC in 1966. The deep rural traditions, vernacular, and ways of life of the region and community are portrayed in great detail as the story unfolds. This is an adventure story, but it is also a story about making good decisions whether you want to or not... It is also a story of relationships. Family and community are underscored, but there is an underlying theme of male/female relationships. It's really okay for boys and girls to be buddies without always having to be boyfriends and girlfriends. It is also a story about innocence. NOT innocence lost, but innocence maintained. Purchase at:Add on Goodreads:
ABOUT MIKE THOMASMike Thomas is a southern writer. He grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina where he learned a lot about family, traditions, and the genteel lifestyle most southerners enjoy. The richly eccentric folks of his youth have become his characters in today's books and stories. Mike began as a newswriter, editor, columnist, reporter, and speechwriter before switching to the role of Critical Care Registered Nurse. He traveled nearly every corner of the world as a vagabond contract nurse before resettling in North Carolina a few years ago. He lives with Bobby, his desktop computer, and Rachel his laptop, in Halifax County, NC. "That's all I need," He says, "Just my computers and a bit of focus. Then we can make up worlds we could only have dreamed of last week." You can visit him at www.mikethomas-writer.com
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The Mysterious Treasure of Jerry Lee Thorton Virtual Book Publicity Tour Schedule
Monday, August 5 - Book featured at Margay Leah Justice
Wednesday, August 7 - Book featured at Between the Pages
Friday, August 9 - Book featured at Book Marketing Buzz
Tuesday, August 13 - Guest blogging at Beauty in Ruins
Wednesday, August 14 - Guest blogging at The Writer's Life
Friday, August 16 - Interviewed at Pump Up Your Book
Monday, August 19 - Book reviewed at The Self Taught Cook
Tuesday, August 20 - Guest blogging at The Story Behind the Book
Wednesday, August 21 - Guest blogging at Literarily Speaking
Friday, August 23 - Interviewed at Literal Exposure
Monday, August 26 - Book featured at Plug Your Book
Tuesday, August 27 - 1st chapter reveal at As the Pages Turn
Wednesday, August 28 - Interviewed at Between the Covers
Friday, August 30 - Interviewed at Review From Here