Goingback to 1999: Julia Roberts, superstar, from across a crowded room, gazes into the eyes of her charming, self-deprecating Joe Everyman (played byHugh Grant—nice average independent bookstore owner in England) and declares her love for him. He loves her! They embrace! The audience cheers! We cut to a park bench where he strokes her hair and she lies on her back, very pregnant and very happy. Hurrah! We wipe our eyes.
Notting Hill was a charmer because two opposites attracted so well, and beneath the highly doubtful scenario, there was an honesty of spirit. They were both loners in their own way, so their love for each other gave us all hope that we, too, won’t be alone.
Now comes the devil on my shoulder to say, “You are such a romantic. You look at the world—and at writing—in a certain impractical way.” Yes, I want both love and writing to be easy. I wouldn’t mind if a superstar whisked me away. (Whoops—what about my family? Can my wife and daughter come, too?)
We who are romantics also would adore sitting down at the computer to have everything spill out, perfect in one draft. Wouldn’t it be nice, too, if we put it online, and the world clicked away to see the site? Maybe we’ll even become billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who founded Facebook. Yeah, and maybe my toes will whistle “Hotel California,” too.
Ah, but the world does work in great ways if you’re willing to listen. Are you listening?
The P Word(s)
There’s one word. No, not “plastics,” but another P word, “persistence.” Make that two P words if you add “patience.” Persistence and patience.
First, you have to be patient in your writing. I want to write another novel, but it’s not going to happen in a day. You might want to create a website. A great one won’t happen in a day, either. As I mentioned in another article, writing is rewriting. To begin, you write your first draft. So what if it’s crap. It’s your crap. Give yourself freedom to write less than perfectly. You can edit out the bad stuff later, but this approach lets genius slip in when you’re not looking. The trick is to let your work sit for a little before polishing it. You need to see your work with fresh eyes. All this takes patience.
After you write it, you then get other people to read it. When it gets shot down—this is an art based on rejection, after all—then persist in perfecting it. Rewrite, polish, make it sing. This, too, takes patience. (I’m on a roll here—hang with me.) Then you have to market it. If it’s an article, a play, a screenplay, or a book, that may mean sending your work off. If it’s a website, you upload—and then try to get people to go to the site. Marketing. Tweeting. Advertising. More. It takes work.
“Work.” That makes writing sound hard. OK, so it is at times. Don’t click me goodbye; it’s true. We all know it. Julia Roberts isn’t walking in, and our writing won’t magically be great every time we push those buttons on the keyboard.
I happen to love teaching, and the hardest teaching I do is to teach people who, at heart, are romantics. Anyone who takes a writing class is a romantic because you hope to meet the right teacher who will say the right things that will make incredible sense to you, and your life will change.
From my end, however, learning about writing is to dive into your soul, and you can’t do that by watching. Writing students as a bunch tend to be introverted—that’s why they’re writers and not actors. I quickly try to draw them out. I make them write. You learn by writing.
Here online, I don’t see you, so I can’t learn about what excites or depresses you. I can’t read your story about your grandfather’s hands or how your father whipped you or how you fell in love on a subway in New York. I don’t see you roll your eyes to the ceiling when someone brings up science fiction, nor do I see you, head in your hands, engrossed as someone reads her story aloud.
My point is that writing is more interactive than you might think. Find people to interact with. Critique and be critiqued.
Next biggest point
Read, read, read. The fact that you read this far shows you’ve got the idea. Don’t only read this article, but also read the very genre you are trying to write. If you are writing text for a website about beneficial bugs, explore a lot of websites. When you find one you like, ask yourself why? Why did you stop there and not elsewhere? Figure out which websites appeal to you, and compare and contrast that with a lousy site. What makes something “best”?
If you’re writing fiction, then read some great short stories. (My suggestion: Lorrie Moore’sBirds of America or anything by Tobias Wolff.) If you are writing screenplays, don’t just watch movies; get the actual scripts. The bigger bookstores have them as do many places online.
The point is, read the kind of writing you are trying to do. Analyze what makes it work. Rather than reinvent the wheel, get the plans for the wheel and improve on it.
Write with patience
Send off your best work persistently, and be proud of your best work—it’s how you keep your passion. After all, in the end, you have to love what you do. Always remain a romantic.
And if you're interested in Christopher Meeks's new oddball romance, Love At Absolute Zero, which pits a brilliant physics professor at the University of Wisconsin with a visiting Danish kindergarten teacher, click here to learn more (and see the hot new cover).