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Friday, January 1, 2010

That Compulsion Known as Writing

I spent the holiday with my family in Disney World. I can't tell you if it's the happiest place on earth, but on December 26, it might have been one of the coldest. I did get to go through the Haunted House twice, so that made ME a happy camper.

I wandered out of the spooky mansion, noticed this gypsy caravan, and took it for an omen. I choose to believe with all my heart that good times are ahead for me in my chosen profession.

See, I've always wanted to be an author--and I've always moved toward that goal.

I started writing "books" when I was seven. Back then I stapled together sheets of paper and decorated the covers. I wrote poetry inside.

I started winning awards for my work when I was in middle school. I started an authorized newspaper back in Griffith (IN) High School and nearly got kicked out of school for it. (The stupid journalism teacher was angry that my readership was higher than hers. Wonder where she is now. Who cares, right?) The next year I wrote a musical. Yes, you read that right. As a high school senior, I wrote a musical complete with songs, music and full three act script.

My friend Doug Brendel even helped with some of the lyrics. He survived, apparently unblemished. Doug is now a missionary who makes regular trips to Bellarus. Check him out:

Doug and I and our third amigo, Bill LaDow, all became authors. Bill wrote a biography of racing giant Ray Nichels. Check it out:

My point? Early on, I recognized in others that spark, that drive toward creativity. And when you hang with other authors, it rubs off. Oh, I don't think we ever sat around and said, "Gee, I'd like to write a book when I grow up." In fact, I know we didn't. But we saw in each other a different type of thinking, a way of processing the world that demanded we express ourselves.

When people find out that I'm an author, they often confide, "I'd like to write a book." Some even say, "I should write a book." Or even, "I could write a book."

I always try to answer their questions honestly. Or to encourage them. Most of them walk away unhappy. They want me to do more. One woman wrote last week and asked me to help her "make the connections I need to get published." A younger woman slipped me a note with her email address. "I need you to help me write my book," she said. "I've gotten it started, but I need help."

Sorry. It doesn't work like that. I sure wish it did, but it doesn't.

What I really should tell them is: Go lie down and hope the urge will pass.

It's a hard road, and there's no clear path. I don't think any two of my author friends has the same publication story. I think the road ahead will get murkier for the publishing industry. Almost all the names on the bestseller lists these days are authors who've been publishing for a while. "Guaranteed" bestsellers, if you will.

But as Nancy Pickard said at Bouchercon, the only part of this that we can control is our willingness to sit down and write. And when we write, we can only work as hard as possible to deliver the best possible story.

Clearly for me, this writing "thang" is a compulsion. It's how I survive. How I make sense (when I do make sense) of the world. It's something I can't live without.


Proudmoms said...

Boy, this brings back memories.
I wrote all the time as a kid. I even was asked to give one of my stories to the teacher, but she never returned it.
I still have one from then that I loved.
I never have tried to even get published. I've had it since I was about 9 or 10 .
One reason I never even tried to get it published is I stink at punctuation marks, where to stick the punctuation marks. I think if I go to collage I am going to take a writing course then after that I shall try and publish it. It's going to be a story for kids. I have a poem I published. I have one that I never published I might also publish it.

I love to read it's only natural that I should have a story or two in my head. I've probably got about 2,000 or more books in my house right now to read.

I love reading and learning new words. I want to incorporate words that are seldom used or unique words in my stories.
(But, I want to include a definition of those words in the back of my book.)
I'm always pulling out my dictionary when I read authors like Dean Koontz. But, that's what I love about his writing.

Good luck to you sweetie.
Vera AKA Proudmoms

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Vera, you're a gem. Yeh, those punctuation marks are devilish critters. And the rules keep changing! Plus, even the best authors make mistakes. I'm reading Michael Connelly's The Last Coyote and I found a typo and a grammatical error. The point? I'm still enjoying the book. As long as the errors don't overwhelm the reader, it's no biggie.

All the best in 2010.

Anonymous said...


I enjoyed reading this post. I'm one of those people who is not an author, but could be. ... Could be, but have never had a burning desire to write regularly ... which means it very likely won't happen. The desire is key!

I LIKE authors and books a lot, though -- and did become a librarian, after all. But these days that profession has a lot more to do with online sources than printed ones. ... well, really it's a mix of both.

Just wanted to say that I had similarly negative experiences with the journalism teacher you mentioned above. And have no clue what happened to the person!

Posting as "Anonymous," but really am

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Jerilyn, she was a real stinker, wasn't she? When I think back, I wonder why she didn't say, "Well, we need to get you into journalism club or yearbook," but NOOOOOO. I don't even remember her name.

I think you could write a book without this sort of drive,'s the compulsion that makes us keep taking the rejection and so on. It's the compulsion that keeps you grinding out book after book.

Hey, Dougie emailed me and said he doesn't think of himself as a MISSIONARY. He calls himself an AUTHOR. Oops!

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