On Writing

Susan Scharfman

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What keeps writers writing when the majority cannot depend on their craft for financial support? Aside from his non-fiction collection of essays, how many novels has Jonathan Franzen written since his meteoric rise to stardom for The Corrections, for which he deservedly received the 2001 National Book Award?

With hundreds of thousands of writers vying for space in cyberspace, struggling to get a foot in the door of an agent, or heaven forbid a publisher, isn’t it remarkable that, with the exception of a few hardy stragglers, the same handful of authors appears on the New York Times Best Seller list month after month? One of my favorite writers of contemporary thrillers, Ken Follett, produces a quality novel once every three or four years. It’s taking him considerably longer to research and write the sequel to his historical fiction masterwork, Pillars of The Earth.

Clearly, the publishing world has become mega corporate moneymaking where, in the words of one of its mega CEOs, you “publish or perish. ” There is only one reason to write a book today: for PROFIT through the cookie-cutter culture of American consumerism.

So what’s a writer to do? A few years ago I watched an interview with the late Anthony Quinn. When asked why he became an actor he replied, “I didn’t know what else to do. In fact I didn’t even know how to act. But I studied pros like Lawrence Olivier, I worked hard and I was a lucky s-b. ”

No doubt luck plays a role in everyone’s life. But there is no such thing as good luck or bad luck. Luck is destiny. Sometimes we think that the absolute worst has just happened to us, like being left at the altar, only to find out later that it was the best thing that could have ever happened. What’s my point? Although you may not be a fan of the following author (you either love him or hate him), he is one of the most prolific and successful writers in America today. And he did it the hard way. Here are a few of his quotes.

  • “When asked, ‘how do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time. ’”

  • “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. ”

  • “No, it's not a very good story. Its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside. ”

    If you’re clueless as to whose pearls of wisdom these are, I suggest you read his book, On Writing. In addition to William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White’s Elements of Style, which we must own and read again and again, Stephen King’s On Writing is the one of the most straightforward and enjoyable lessons in how to write plain, compelling prose. Your eyes won’t glaze over. You will celebrate being a reader and writer. You will enjoy the effort you make to get better, and you will never give up because there is nothing you would rather do with your life.

    Susan Scharfman is a freelance writer/editor at http://www.susanscharfman.com .

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