Monday, September 25, 2006

Writers Write. Period.

By Daniel A. Olivas

When I hear would-be authors proclaim that they could write the Great American Novel if only they had time, I simply want to laugh. It reminds me of the story (perhaps apocryphal) about a dentist who blithely informed Isabel Allende that he planned to become a novelist when he retired. She quipped: “Oh really? And when I retire I’ll become an oral surgeon!”

What I’m about to say will sound like tough love or even cruel, but here goes: A writer finds time to write regardless of hectic schedules, energetic children, and needy lovers. No excuses.

Rather than leave it at that, let me describe how I’ve written five books (four published, one making the rounds awaiting judgment), edited a 115,000-word anthology of short fiction set for publication next year, in addition to posting each Monday on La Bloga, and writing book reviews and essays for numerous print and online publications. I do this while juggling the time demands of marriage, parenthood and holding down a stressful, full-time day job as an attorney with the California Department of Justice.

First, I note that as a lawyer, I essentially write for a living. Though some time is spent in court, most of the “heavy lifting” occurs in my office at my computer as I write legal memoranda, motions and briefs. I work under tight, court-determined deadlines. There is no room for writers’ block. My goal with legal writing is simply to tell a coherent, compelling story. So, if you have a “day job” where you must write, you have an advantage that other budding authors don’t because you are constantly honing your writing skills. True, writing a memo to your boss on how to improve sales might not resemble that detective thriller brewing in your brain, but I truly believe that being required, on a daily basis, to craft sentences and paragraphs in a non-literary forum will benefit your creative writing.

Second, I specialize in short stories. Even the novel I’m working on is made up of interconnecting short stories. In other words, I write self-contained pieces that I can complete within a relatively short period. This works for me. But if you want to write a novel and you feel as though you can barely get an hour alone at the computer, let me suggest that you break it up into baby steps so that the mountain you’re about to scale doesn’t seem so daunting. Promise yourself to write 500 words a day. That’s two, double-spaced pages. Not so scary, right? I write in the evening, usually when my son is asleep and my wife is relaxing. I find that I can squeeze in one or two hours of writing each night. On weekends, I’ll sneak in another one or two hours in the morning. Those hours add up as do the pages.

Third, I don’t waste my time talking about what I want to write. Don’t get me wrong. I love discussing the craft itself when I’m in the company of other writers or on a book panel. But there is nothing more boring than someone telling me what he plans to write when that person hasn’t produced a word. It sounds like this to me: Blah, blah, blah. I’m sounding cranky now, right? Oh well.

Fourth, when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about plots, characters, dialogue, the perfect description of a book I’m going to review. This often happens during my long commute from the West San Fernando Valley to my office in downtown. In other words, much of my writing happens before I actually sit before the computer.

Finally, there is an element of writing that I have trouble explaining but I’ll give it a try. Words want to come out of me and take shape in the form of a story, poem, essay or book review. I am incapable of subduing these words. If I don’t get them out of my head and onto paper, I will explode. I’m lucky that some folks have wanted to publish my words, sometimes even paying me. But I suspect that I’d write no matter what. That’s why God created blogs. Now go forth and write. You have no excuses!

◙ NUEVO LIBRO: My review of Manuel Paul López’s debut collection, Death of a Mexican and Other Poems (Bear Star Press) appeared yesterday in the El Paso Times. As I noted earlier, the collection is this year's winner of the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize.

◙ THINKIN’ BROWN: The ever provocative author Himilce Novas shares her thoughts on Hispanic Heritage Month.

◙ NEW LIT: The new issue of Tertulia Magazine is now live for your online reading pleasure. And the Southern Cross Review celebrates its seventh anniversary with a new issue.

◙ FROM THE NEWS WIRES: ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives has chosen El Paso native John Rechy as the first recipient of its ONE Culture Hero Award. Rechy has written 17 volumes of fiction, documentary, drama and essays. He teaches at the University of Southern California. Rechy also wrote and published City of Night, the landmark novel and panorama of the gay lifestyle in Los Angeles and other cities in the United States. The award will be presented Oct. 28 at a reception in Los Angeles, where Rechy is scheduled to talk about his experiences as a writer and activist.

◙ CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: The first, maybe annual, La Bloga Día de los Muertos Amoxcalli-Descansos Contest. (More about the title, later.)

Here's your chance to get exposure for your great piece relating to el Día de los Muertos. Through Oct. 24th we will accept prose, poetry, essay, in English or Spanish or Spanglish--just about anything concerning this indigenous/modern tradition. Fantasy, children's stories, young adult, horror, serious, or not so--anything you want to share on La Bloga.

Shorter pieces are preferred (less than 500 words), since we are the editorial staff and will base decisions on quality and how little work is required of us. That week, los Bloguistas will do their regular contributions on the subject, along with readers' submissions, with one prize winner featured each day. So, get it polished 'cause more details are coming Thursday.

All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadre at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!


Anonymous said...

Great idea on the Dia de los Muertos stuff. I'll be sure to get something together.

Inspiring for me to see you be a lawyer and a published author - since that's what I'd like my future to look like too. Que siga adelante.

daniel olivas said...

gracias...we at la bloga hope to receive many fine submissions. and for the lawyer thing, i only went to ucla. you're at harvard! such brains!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I went to UCLA for undergrad and it is a great school. Go Bruins.

cindylu said...

I guess I'm lucky to have a day job (full time grad student) that requires lots of writing. I'll definitely work on a submission for the contest.

One of the best courses I had as an undergrad was specifically on creative writing. She really didn't teach us how to write, but it was more like a 10-week workshop and was quite useful in the way I see all types of writing now.