Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Dear You--

When I think of my pre & post-publication writing career to date – now nearly two and a half decades long - I realize I owe a great deal to being helped. This isn’t to minimize my own efforts – I happen to be extraordinarily committed to writing (and have paid the price) but more to try and determine how I can put something back into the collective pot. 

Why bother? Damned if I know; but I suspect the human psyche contains some decent impulses, and I am learning, as I get older, that helping people can induce a rather pleasant warm and fuzzy feeling - akin to stroking a cat, or finding one hasn’t been hit after a firefight. 

But enough of analysis – because what sane person would trust Freud. The task at hand, right now, is to determine the questions that writers seem to want answering.

All suggestions to the Q&A welcome. I’m merely priming the pump because what I really want is your input. So tell me your writing concerns and I’ll do my best to come up with answers. Mind you, normally, if you can frame the question, you practically know the answer already; but why spoil the fun.

By the way, over time I’ll flesh out the answers to provide detail (lists of books, agents etc.) and probably put the whole thing together in one central place on the web. This is just the quick-and-dirty beginning.

I would add that I’m also responding to my good friend, author Norman Wilson’s, commitment to ‘Paying it forward.’ He is what we would call, in Ireland, ‘a decent man’ and also happens to be the author of  THE SHAMAN'S QUEST Read this book!

But I suspect I digress. The answers await.

Q. How do I learn to write?
A. It’s amazing how many people think they want to make writing a career before they have learned the basics of writing. Here, I have two suggestions:
Firstly, read voraciously, widely and well – and preferably to excess. This is one business where you can see exactly what the masters do merely by going to a library or a bookstore. One of the great advantages of reading is that one tends to learn how writers do things through osmosis.

Secondly, write every day until you reach the stage where the mere sight of a keyboard will make you want to write. The idea is to make writing a conditioned reflex (as in you will react similarly to Pavlov’s dog). What should you write about? That is entirely up to you but I suggest you start by keeping a journal and discipline yourself to hit a target word-count. Initially, it doesn’t really matter what you write. The important thing is to do the deed and not talk about it. Write until you have to write!

Q. Are spelling, punctuation and grammar important?
A. Yes! You don’t have to know all the terminology but you have to have mastered the basics if you want to be taken seriously. True, spelling and style checkers help but they can only do so much. Personally, I still read books on grammar (some are extremely amusing) from time to time, and I thank the Ultimate Writer in the sky for spell checkers; and swear I’ll study harder when I’m re-incarnated. Dave Petraeus (THE general) edited one of my books (GETTING TO KNOW THE WARFIGHTERS) and asked me had I ever heard of the comma!

Q. How long does it take to learn to write?
A. You will still be learning when you die. Rather like sex, it is one of those activities which you never master quite as well as you want, but where the endeavor is exhilarating. Think decades rather than years or months. This isn’t to say that you won’t become competent within a few years, but if you are serious about writing you’ll want to do better than that – and good takes longer. The positive aspect: It’s a fine thing to be considered a good writer and worth the effort.

Q. How does one get used to being alone all day with only a computer for company?
A. It probably helps if one starts off having had an unhappy childhood or some such. Actually, though I did have a ridiculously difficult childhood (just for starters I’m the eldest of 12 children, was raised a Catholic and went to an English boarding school) I quite like people, but since I like writing more I can happily commune with a keyboard for a typical working day (or more) without missing those over-rated beings, real live humans. Besides, one has one’s characters to socialize with and they have a habit of becoming very real very quickly. Nonetheless, I will admit that the love of a good woman is a wonderful thing – and pleasant to enjoy AFTER writing; and a glass of wine with friends is not to be sneezed at.

To be continued…

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  1. Thanks for the pointers, Victor. It makes me feel like I'm on the right track. I've loved reading and writing since I was a kid. I would read mostly thrillers my mom would pass on to me from a very early age. I never slept much from being scared out of my wits, but maybe that's overrated. I've only been published for a few years, and not selling well, but I guess I'm in this for the long haul anyway!

  2. The problem with wanna-be writers is that many are looking for fortune and glory the easy way, the Holy Grail of writing. You offer sound advice, but I suspect mostly ignored except by those with that needed passion to write.

    To paraphrase Thomas Edison - I think writing is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration and that may be to generous on the inspiration part.

    Assuming I got my numbers right, on BookTV a panel talked about publishing of about three million books and average sales of 250. So, with those odds, why do we do it?

    As for me, it is a love, a passion, something that drives me. Plus, I think it is pretty cool and an unappreciated process that we do.

    We hit some keys containing some symbols and in doing so we can make up words, sentences, paragraphs that turn into books of our ideas, our thoughts, our stories, and then share them with everyone in the world who would be interested in what we are saying.

    That to me is the coolest part and makes up for lonely hours turned into days turned into weeks, months and years in front of a blank computer screen.

    Just think there are people in this world who are willing to pay money just to read what you wrote. Wow!