Monday, March 29, 2010

Writers Write. Period.

By Daniel Olivas

[Author’s note: I just received a markup of my forthcoming novel, The Book of Want, from my editor. The book will come out next spring from the University of Arizona Press and I am getting excited about it. But this also means that I must make time to focus on these edits. So, I thought it’d be appropriate to republish a little essay I wrote for La Bloga a few years ago that offers tough love to those who wish to become “writers.”]

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!


Xánath Caraza said...

Love it!! No excuses: Write gente!!
Felicidades for your upcoming book!


Lourdes said...

Love the tough love. Congratuations, Daniel.

Alvaro Huerta said...

Daniel offers great advice for those who aspire to be writers.

In the words of the famous Nike commercial, "Just do it."

Thania said...

much needed tough love, thanks Daniel!

Anonymous said...

Yes, nice. Thank you. Good advice as I write my conference paper and chapter! Just do it and si' se puede, yeah! :)

Unknown said...

Thank you. I needed that slap in the face! A escribir se ha dicho!

Unknown said...

Excellent post, so true! Congrats on all your success!

P.S. Is there any way to put the RSS feed link on the site? I would love to add it to my Goodle reader! Love the blog so much!!