Monday, February 27, 2012

I Writ Me a Book

Of all art forms, writing is probably the one most given a short shrift. Sit someone down at a piano and say, "Write me a symphony," or hand someone a lump of clay and say "Make me a sculpture," or give them a paint bush and palette and ask them to paint a portrait, and most wouldn't have a clue--let alone the real ability--to do it. But books are simply written language, and everyone uses language every day of their lives. How many people have you heard say "Oh, I'm going to write a book one day"? Most just don't stop to think that being able to write and being able to write a book are two very different things.

A reader's eyes skimming over the words in a book are like a bird skimming over the surface of a sea, and few people realize that under that surface are unseen depths--mountains and valleys of the author's efforts.

I write books. I've written about 20, actually, and am within a few pages of completing another. I'm neither famous nor rich--though the two sometimes go hand in hand and I would very much like to be among those who are. Nor am I a great writer. I'm simply a storyteller using the written word to tell tales meant to entertain using various aspects of our shared humanity. We all need to step away from ourselves and the reality of our everyday lives every now and then. Books are perhaps the oldest and most common way to do it.

There are many reasons why writers become writers; a pressure-cooker response to so many thoughts, ideas, and impressions; a desire to share the fruits of a vivid imagination; a way of trying to make sense of an often seemingly senseless world. But of all the various motivations to become a writer, I do not know of a single writer who does not have one trait in common with all other writers: a love of words; a fascination with their sound, their meaning, their flexibility, their origins.

I firmly believe one is destined to become a writer--or a painter, or a musician--long before one actually becomes one. There is predisposition toward becoming many things based on a combination of circumstances, interests, opportunities, and experiences during one's formative years. All humans have a need to express themselves in some way or other, but it is the intensity of these needs which results in books and art and music and sets artists and writers and musicians apart from everyone else.

I've often said that I am blessed that my books tend to write themselves, with just an occasional nudge from me, and I delight in just watching the words march across the screen. (A great many authors say the same thing.) The characters in a book-in-progress often become very real to the author--as, with luck, they will to the reader. Like real people, a book's characters take on their own personalities. Often this will include doing and saying things that send the story off in directions the writer had not originally intended.

There are those writers--J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter books fame among them--who take great care to plot out their stories chapter by chapter and sometimes page by page. I have, quite honestly, never been able to comprehend how or why they do this. It would, for me, totally eliminate the spontaneity and the joy. (How could new thoughts or ideas not come to the writer in the course of writing?)

Though it is not obvious to the reader, the writing of a book involves--again speaking for myself--constant adjustments and careful attention to detail. Since the book isn't written in one sitting, it's very easy to get things mixed up; to forget details or to mention the same thing twice at different times. Chronology--keeping track of what happens when--can be a vital factor and to get even the smallest of story elements out of chronological order can lead to some serious problems and some serious rewriting to put things back the way they should be. Place names, street names, and the names of characters must be consistent and spelled the same way every time. Little things most people would never be aware of, and it is vitally important that the reader not be aware of them.

The reader should, like the bird in the second paragraph, simply glide over the sea of words the writer has created without any thought to what lies beneath the surface.

Making things look easy is hard.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).


Kage Alan said...

Love this post, D! We are but the mouths for what others whisper in our ear. We translate what we hear and add our own spin to it. Huh...kinda makes us editors, doesn't it? Wonder if they get annoyed with us because of that.

Dorien/Roger said...

Excellent point, Kage. I'm reminded of that bumper sticker I've always loved: "I do whatever the little voices in my head tell me to."