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Dying by the side of the road

Some days do you think, why the hell am I writing, anyway? The industry is hard, have you noticed? A dozen reasons not to write spring up immediately: bad back; family neglected while you’re thinking of plot; lousy pay.

We claim that we soldier on because we love to tell stories. We love to write. But is this the truth? I guess it is for some who are addicted to their own words on a page. I don’t intend to be particularly snarky when I say that, but if I’m being provocative, I have a reason. I’m calling on us to remember the real reason we write so that when the tough times come we won’t plague ourselves with thoughts of giving up.

It ain’t easy

We should be writing stories that matter. They don’t need to be pretentious and preachy, but they should say something. If our stories aren’t more than popcorn entertainment, would we really want to endure all the demands of the writing life?

What demands? To name a few:

  1. to write every day

  2. to meet our publishing deadlines

  3. to promote our work on the web and through social media

  4. to maintain visibility with appearances

  5. to understand business basics and the publishing industry in particular

  6. to stay abreast of the books coming out from friends, role models, and different publishers

  7. to refresh our sources of inspiration through paying close attention to the world, popular culture, current events

  8. to pay it forward in the industry, helping others gain a foothold

  9. to manage one’s writing desk, taxes, contracts and electronic tools

Let’s stop. I’m getting cranky just thinking about all I haven’t done today.

The purpose of writing

Writing is not fun. In this self-promotion-obsessed world we may create on-line fantasy images of the writing life, but every writer who reads my Facebook page knows that what I put up there is not the full story. Writing is an art and a craft, and we sacrifice a lot to stay in the business. That being the case, it sure seems to me that it’s not enough to entertain thoughtlessly. There should be more to it than turning our brains into kudzu-producing fiction machines.

You knew that, but sometimes a challenging reminder helps to clean up the cobwebs. You know, those days when we’re lost for a premise, or tempted to immediately roll over when a publisher says, “Write me another like that last one.”

I’m thinking back to May when Bob Mayer spoke at Write on the River. He gave a fabulous example of writing stories that matter. For days I couldn’t get the lesson out of my mind. Here was his example:

In the 2005 movie Walk the Line, Johnny Cash (played by Joaquim Phoenix), auditions a gospel song in front of a guy from a music label. The rep isn’t impressed. He tells Cash that his heart wasn’t in it. Cash says, “You saying I don’t believe in God?” The rep says he’s heard gospel songs a million times. He tells Cash to sing a song like it’s his last chance. As though his truck rolled over and he’s dying on the side of the road and he needs to let God know what he felt about his time here on earth. “One song that would sum you up. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people.”

In that moment in class I remembered why I write. To find meaning, to say what I’ve done with my years, what I know and what I wish I knew. Maybe, like me, just remembering this truth can bring you to the heart of your story or show you a story that no one else can write.

Gosh, this all sounds a bit serious. Like everyone, I do love a good beach book and one that will fend off numbing boredom on a long plane ride. I might even write an occasional book or short story like that. But I’m here to say, such books are only interludes between the real work we have before us: the songs that God wants to hear when your truck dumps you on the side of the road.


For more on the topic of “heart,” here are some previous posts:

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