I just came back from The Tucson (AZ) Book festival, a huge event with some four hundred or so writers, illustrators, and others connected with the book world. Thousands of people were in attendance. One often hears these days about the lack of interest in reading. When you go to one of these large events, you see otherwise, and I, for one, have restored faith in the world of the book. It energizes me.
That said, and sincerely meant, there is an aspect of these kinds of affairs that always depresses me. I am often put on the program to talk about how I write, the process, how I began and the like. Happy to do so. But, inevitably, when the time for questions comes, someone will ask, “What’s the best way to start a novel?” Or, “I have written a book. How can I get it published?” “I keep trying to write, but I always get stuck. What should I do?”
I have a number of responses to this.
- Why do so many people want to write? What is it about publishing that seems (in people’s minds) to convey some major achievement?
- Why do these would-be writers think there is one small thing I, or my fellow writers, can say which will be like a magic key, something that will suddenly unlock the “mystery of writing?”
- Why do these folks think of themselves as writers when, in fact they have written so very little?
In my view you can only become a writer by
- Reading a great deal.
- Writing a great deal.
- Writing for a specific kind of readership.
- Knowing that good writing is hard to achieve.
- Being with other serious-minded writers, which is to say, immersing oneself in book culture.
- Learning about the world of books, not just the books themselves, but the business of books, the world and process of publishing.
A fine writer I’ve only recently discovered is Gene Weingarten (a journalist). He writes:
“The art of storytelling is as old as civilization. There will always be a hunger for it. Learn to do it well, and somehow, you will find a way to make it pay … [but) a real writer is someone for whom writing is a terrible ordeal. That is because he knows deep down, with an awful clarity, that there are limitless ways to fill a page with words, and that he will never, ever, do it perfectly.”