A strange thing happened to me when I started writing; I stopped reading. From a very early age one of my great pleasures was reading. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know that my favorite “literature” as a child was Classics Illustrated comic books. The great joy I experienced then has continued throughout my life—I have read lots of books. And I mean lots.
Then I decided to try my hand at writing a book. It was kind of a lark based on an encounter with a “published” author. This was in a social setting and the person was a creative writing instructor at a local community college. He and I got along—we agreed on a lot of important stuff; like politics. Our wives got along, so we ended up socializing on other occasions. At one of those he gave me his book—the only one he had written, I think—which apparently experienced a level of success and was published by a known publisher. I read it (at that time I read everything) and decided it was okay but nothing special; still I was impressed that he had written a book and it was published. Based on the grade school playground logic of “if he can do that, so can I“— I decided to write a book.
It was day one in my new writing career. I won’t go into the ugly details, but it was mostly a disaster. Nothing was easy and no one (other than maybe my family) gave a crap about my sudden declaration of being an author. The whole experience was demoralizing. I did write a book; sort of. It was a mess. I just jumped in not knowing what I was doing and thought some sort of inspiration would take over and guide me to a great book. The inspiration never showed up. What I learned is that writing is hard.
After that experience, I licked my wounds for a while; but eventually decided I still wanted to be an author. Now I knew I needed guidance, professional people to assist in the editing, cover design and all sorts of things to produce a successful book. From that first experience, it was almost six years before I wrote again. Some of that time was healing time, but most was doing the things I should have done before. I began to do the prep work on becoming an author. I found people to help me in various areas and spent time thinking about writing, reading about writing, and studying about writing.
Once I decided I knew enough to try again, I started writing. That book was The Bootlegger’s Legacy. The whole experience was different. It was still not easy. I had worked on an outline and got about three chapters into the book and decided it was not going well—but rather than scream, I started over. The second attempt worked. I finished the book and was pleased with the result. That first “real” book won a Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association and I was hooked. Suddenly, I really was an author.
During the writing of The Bootlegger’s Legacy, I found it was disruptive for me to read other books. Not sure why or if this happens to other people; but it was difficult for me to enjoy reading because I was comparing it to my writing. I was critical of the writing; I couldn’t seem to concentrate on the story, because I was focusing on the structure, or punctuation, or the totally stupid way the author said something. I had never done that as a reader before. Now I was a critic.
I stopped reading. That was about five years ago and I have rarely read since. I was a person reading dozens of books a year and enjoying the experience. But now, due to my writing, I couldn’t enjoy reading other people’s books.
The primary way I learned to be an author was by reading. Now my head was full of my stories and other people’s stories just interfered. So, I guess, today I write because I need something to read. Four Corners War was just released. I worked for a long time on that book—I’ve written before about that experience so I won’t retell it here; but it was a very difficult project for me over an extended period. By the time it was done, I was mostly exhausted by the whole thing.
After a little lull in writing, I decided to actually read the finished book; Four Corners War. Okay, I shouldn’t say this, I liked it –a lot. News flash, author likes his own book!
There were points in the process, like time schedules, deadlines, and endless editing that made me lose sight of the actual story. Even if it is my book –it’s a good story about characters I have come to know as people and care about. I’m glad I have the book to read. Of course, if need be, I could always return to my childhood favorite Classics Illustrated comic books.
Thanks for being a reader!