Jennifer's Journal


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Meditations for the Driven Writer

I never realized how driven to be a writer I would become, or how time-consuming the craft of writing is. Anyone who truly aspires to get successfully published should understand these two things.
…Bertrice Small

The “driven” writer: it sounds extreme, and probably is to some extent. What drives us is not dreams of wealth, fame or immortality – though I wouldn’t refuse those if offered! But no, it’s the stories. They rise up in our minds in living color, haunting us like the flashing images of other people’s lives seen from a car window. They beg to be written, demand it, refuse to let us rest until it happens. It’s as if these people in our heads can’t live until we give them their stories, and they darn well won’t take no for an answer.

I will strive to remember that other people don’t have demanding characters and stories in their heads. This makes them the normal ones, instead of the other way around…


I think the first thing you've got to do is grab the reader by the ear, and make him sit down and listen. Make him laugh, make him feel. We all want to be entertained at a very high level. That is the beginning of the relationship, the symbiosis between the writer and the reader.
…John le Carré

In a recent issue of The Third Degree, the newsletter for Mystery Writers of America, Tom Colgan, Executive Editor at The Putnam Berkley Group said he saw a “disturbing trend” for “character/situation driven mystery that forsakes the actual mystery.” Thank goodness someone with clout finally said it. I’d wondered when it was coming, not only for mysteries but for all commercial fiction. The books that people read primarily to escape are all about story. Readers require an exciting storyline with a series of interesting events in order to forget their everyday lives. They want a story wherein something happens -- or books that are plot-driven. If they wanted mere character interaction with all its angst, waffling motivation and indecision they’d read literary works. Or write their autobiographies.

I will write the story that thrills me, the one I would like to read. I will read the writing advice of others and take from it what I feel to be real and important while discarding what doesn’t attract me.


Writing is done one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, one page at a time.
…Robin Lee Hatcher

Write long enough, and someone is sure to ask you to ghost write their life story. If you’re very unlucky, they’ll offer you a pittance for this best seller they are sure you will produce. This is in spite you having a current multi-book contract -- which you will undoubtedly possess because otherwise you wouldn’t be considered worthy of immortalizing them. Thank them kindly for the compliment while expressing your regrets. Public displays of teeth-gnashing irritation may tickle the bystanders but will embarrass your friends, your spouse and your children.

Give me the patience to deal with those who believe ideas for books come hard but the labor to produce them is trifling. I will consider it a part of my job to educate the uninitiated for the sake of my sanity and that of my fellow writers.


I wanted to be a writer because I loved reading so much. I wanted to write something that would make somebody, somewhere, feel about books the way I did.
…Bill Crider

Books are the downfall of most writers; we can never get enough. Not only do I have books in my bookshelves but on top of them and beside them, also stacked on end tables and chests, piled in the corners of my office, and in boxes in the closets and in the attic. I’ve been known to hide them on top of the refrigerator, in my underwear drawer and behind the soap dish next to bath tub. I loan them, trade them, donate them to charities and libraries, dump them at my mother’s house and still they multiply. Returning from a writer’s conference is always a chore because my luggage weighs a ton from the books I’ve collected. That’s in addition to the three or four I pack because I need a choice of something to read on the plane. I sometimes think I learned to write because I was afraid I might run out of reading material.

I will never throw away a single book because each represents the hopes and aspirations of the person who wrote it.


Language is the common property of society, and writers are the guardians of language.
…Octavio Paz

A reader once said that she had to read my books with a dictionary on the table beside her. She thought it was funny; I thought it was sad. We are told that the average reader, whoever that might be, reads at the fifth grade level. And why not, if we all write to that level? I don’t want to have to think about the length or complexity of the words I use. I have stories to tell and words to put on paper that will tell them exactly as they are in my mind. That’s all.

Let us hope fascination for the story will encourage readers to pay attention to the dance of the words in their heads and so understand their meaning as naturally as they understand the rhythm and beauty of music.


Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.
…Carol Burnett

What makes a book immortal, a classic? Someone once argued that literary masterpieces can be written deliberately. She maintained that she could create a minutely realized examination of human misery that would live forever – if only she wasn’t forced to write for money. I say true classics are accidents, stories that snag the imaginations of readers by some inadvertent yet perfect combination of character, setting, plot and theme. Their appeal is to the heart rather than the mind. Using this logic, a book of any genre may suddenly spring full-blown into greatness. Sometimes, a single character can do it. Like a wizard…

The motive for writing should always be simple. It must be for the joy of doing—otherwise, it’s too much slogging labor!


If you’ve ever written notes on toilet paper in a public restroom, then you may be a driven writer. If you’ve found them days later and been unable to remember what the heck they mean, then you know it.
…Jennifer Blake


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