Thursday, March 24, 2011

Patience & Persistence Makes a Writer

MARK TWAIN, my spiritual mentor since beginning my long journey as an author and the guy I stole more from than anyone else I have stolen from, he has a great many great quotes but this one I purely love: "KEEP AWAY from people who try to belittle your ambitions. SMALL PEOPLE always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too, can be great."

I have had my collegaues in the teaching profession say to me, "Rob, you actually think anyone can do what you do, don't you?"

"Of course and why not? When it comes to writing fiction, guess what? Doing of it is the teacher, and I pretty much taught myself, set up my own curriculum and went at it. So why not another? Why not my students?"

Of course not all students succeed, and not all great young writers prevail. It is a myth to believe that well crafted writing alone will lift an author to the top of his profession. Most never get past all the frustration and need for patience, the time it takes to evolve into a talented writer who can actually make shapely fiction. For it takes years, and for most of us, a lifetime as truly, there are few things in life that require as much self-teaching and practice and skill-building as crafting solid fiction.

Dearn R. Koontz once advised me to slow down, adding, "Robert, you don't do your best work until you turn 50 anyway."  He was right of course but at the time I was teetering on 50, and very frustrated and feeling I had put in way too much time on a dying propostion to begin with...contemplating quitting altogether. Who needed the headaches and the heartaches and the belly aches from hunger and depression at not achieving the gold ring?

What Koontz meant and what I know now is that it has taken me 30 years of continuous writing to get to the level of proficiency I am at currently. Sure there are those amazing wonders among us out who careen to the top of the bestseller list with their first publicaiton but scratch the surface and 99 percent of the time, you will learn that first publicaiton came only after six, seven or even ten previously written UNpublished novels.

I feel indeed I am doing my BEST work in a checkered career now, that my more recent titles -- all of which have been written within the last few years as Kindle Originals are my best to date works, books I could not have written when I was young and full of eager impatience to be published. 

With each book I have written, I have gotten better over these many years, and to get so good as to be speed writing with confidence, most of us have to go through the harrowing period I call the Valley of Death thorugh whch Job himself must suffer...that it takes the patience of the biblical Job to prosper in any of the major arts - be it film, sculpting, painting, computer graphics, poetry, biography, fiction. Whatever your addiction craves to create.

Frightfully now, up on Kindle bookshelves, my readers can go wayyyy back in time, look over my early works, and see how terribly weak they are compared to my latest works. What a difference; it is like when Martin Cruse Smith went from doing a schlocky vampire vs. Native American horror novel to writing such as Gorky Park, not that any of my books are Gorky Park. But I began writing thin books, thin in size and in depth, lacking setting and character but with a lot of plot. Only over time and with experience(s), did my novels fatten up completely to the point they turn some folks off due to sheer page numbers.

My newer work, however, are character-driven, filled with fully realized characters rather than the thin shadows of my early, past creations.It is instructive even for me to go back in time and read the kid's early stuff--and to realize that while the kid had something on the ball and a lot of gall, hutzpah, smarts...that the work was thin by comparison to the old gent's stuff.

Don't believe me? Look at my first published novel alongside Children of Salem or Titanic 2012. There simply is no comparison. While the kid I was had sparks of passion, perhaps even a bic lighter flame of smartness, the depth of all the elements coming together in the later works is just so much more of...of everything readers want and need..In orther words, Dean Koontz knows of what he speaks. It takes a life devoted to writing to reach par.

I am soon to be 63 and I began writing as a kid, maybe around fourth grade, and wrote my first short stories as a child, my first novel as a high schooler, modeling it on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn-- a sequel!  The arrogance of youth, but in tracking Twain so closely as to "write Twain", well the genius became my spiritual mentor, and I never forgot what he taught me about writing.

Still it was I who unearthed Twain; he did not come to me in a drean or a zombie state. It takes a powerful yearning to want to imitate and emulate a writer of Twain's caliber. So when the Chicago Tribune review of City for Ransom compared my work favorably to Twain, Dickens, Doyle, and Poe I felt in great company. I began to feel I was getting pretty good at what I chose to devote my life to.

It takes enormous patience, the sort of infinite patience required of a teacher these days, the sort that requires a higher PQ than IQ...a high Persistence Quotient.

Thanks for visiting and do leave a cogent comment; would love to cogently respond to you as well or simply to hear from you.

Robert W. Walker
"What Moves Kindle Bks. off Shelves" -- Kindle Community forums


Jay Hudson said...

Love your post. Twain is my mentor also.I would have loved to swap lies with him until the wee hours in some news room.
Jay Hudson

Rob said...

thanks, too. He was a great journalist. I discovered James Herriot, author of All Creatures Great & Small, the Scottish veternarian pre WWII in England countryside practice to be as close an author to Twain as I have seen, far more so than say Garrison Keillor, Herriot, like Twain, can make you laugh and cry at the same time in the same paragraph.

again thanks for dropping in


@Ruby_Barnes said...

I've always been a fan of James Herriot too and his work translates well to the small screen. Have to say I prefer my mentors alive, as in this day and age almost everyone is accessible. When I was a sapling I learned Bluegrass guitar from an intruction album on vinyl by Stefan Grossman. Recently I was looking to find out if the song 'Death Comes Creeping' was public domain as the lyrics fitted with my serial killer WIP and imagine my surprise when I found Stefan alive, well and selling on the internet. Not only that but he responded personally to my email within 24 hours. Oh wonders of elektrickery! All borders have come down.
Rob, your back catalogue is your treasure trove in this age of Kindle.

Jan Kozlowski said...

Thanks for another great post Rob! And especially for passing on what Dean Koontz said about doing your best work after 50. Given that I'll hit that mark in another couple of months, and like you I've been writing since 4th grade or so, it's nice to know that my best work is still ahead of me.

Also heartily agree with you about James Herriot. I discovered him as an animal crazy adolescent and have always thought his writing was some of the most elegant and evocative I'd ever had the pleasure of immersing myself in.

Warren Bull said...

Don't you always wonder what a younger author has to say in a memoir? My childhood was ...? I read somewhere that after doing something 10,000 times a person's sill level at the activity really starts to bloom. There are no shortcuts.

jenny milchman said...

I found it interesting recently to read Harlan Coben's first, previously unpublished (I believe) novel, and try and note what has changed between it and his later works. I admire not only your patience but your perspective, Rob. Thanks for the post.

Rob said...

Ruby -- dud you try to talk Stefan into allowing use of his song for your serial killer book? eh? eh? I wanted to use an ee cummings poem once but when Berkley/Jove went after rights, they found it so expensive that I had to write my own damn poetry for the book....I so wanted JAKE HATES ALL the GIRLS....would have been perfect.
Next time I needed poetry for a serial killer, I used my son's ooems, getting him published in the pages of Bitter Instinct. After that, a grateful son began calling me McDaddy.

rob - have my backlist all selling on Kindle now.

Rob said...

Warrenm Jan, Jenny - thanks so much for your input; everyone's point of view is appreciated here. You may want to locate my thread on Kindle Community forums if you have a kindle title up, as the thread is "What Moves Kindle Bks. off the Shelf." The input there is great for practical tips to move those books into reader hands.


@Ruby_Barnes said...

Hey Rob. That's real cute to get your son's poems published in that way, nice one. Stefan told me that, like most of the Blues and Ragtime pieces he plays, Death Comes Creeping is trad and handed down by mouth from the great Bluegrass guitarists of yore, so it was public domain.
These sort of things can get very expensive I know. Our tutor asked Leonard Cohen, as a friend, to come and give us a talk at our writers' course but he wanted 10k USD for the pleasure. I had an idea to use Bird on a Wire for my Ger Mayes book but I didn't bother after that experience.
It's always a good idea if, like my old Bluegrass band, the inspiration can be got from those long gone. Cheaper that way and it adds an air of mystique. Case in point - Mark Twain.

Morgan Mandel said...

Writing is a learning process. No matter how much you know, there's always more you can learn!

My novels are also character driven, since I love getting into people's heads and being them for a while.

Morgan Mandel

Geraldine Evans said...

What you say is so true, Rob. Some of my earlier plots were WAY too complicated even though they were character-driven. Nowadays I try not to give myself a headache with endless twists and turns in the story.

Robt. W. Walker said...

I wonder what Mark Twain would make of Kindle and Indie publishing; you know he did do some self-publishing, and he published U.S. Grant's Autobiography which he lost his shirt on.