Wednesday, October 14, 2009

There is No Secret Handshake

The jig is up. There is no secret handshake. No magic formula. No deus ex machina for writers.


I was. Next thing you know, they'll be telling us there is no Santa Claus. Yeesh.

Leaving the big red guy out of it for a moment, I have to admit, when I started out writing, I was certain there was a secret formula. All I had to do was figure it out and the bestsellers would flow from my pen. I mean, honestly, it wasn't the craziest idea I've ever had (there have been crazier, like the time I decided I could prove girls are every bit as good as guys and jumped from a bridge into a river after a guy. Don't ask.) So what was it for writing? Writing for exactly two hours each day? Or writing nonstop, foregoing sleep, until I'd birthed my idea? Or if that wasn't working out, how about writing standing up, like Hemingway. Or drunk?

I will shamefacedly admit, I've tried all of these "formulas" out and then some. None of them worked. So finally, I resigned myself to the fact that I'm not clever enough to decode the secret handshake and will have to plug along writing as best I can.

It wasn't until I read Stephen King's On Writing a few weeks back (after four picture books and a middle grade novel, hundreds of school visits, and I don't know how many conference speeches) that I had my "Eureka!" moment. There is no secret formula to writing.

Not, at least, in the way I was thinking. I mean, the big secret is, to write. That's it. Everything else is fluff.

What King showed in his book was enlightening for me, or maybe I really had finally hit that "clever enough" to understand it point. His journey to authorhood, i.e. the early years of his life and what prompted him to want to write, couldn't be more different than mine, or thousands of other writers. It's eclectic, unique, what makes Stephen King, Stephen King and not Stacy Nyikos. His candid, tell all approach to describing his life as a writer made that clearer than anything I'd ever read before.

The thing that separated him from thousands of other writers is stubbornness. He plugged away at writing, day after day, year after year, rejection after rejection, until he had honed his skills - his, not Charles Dickens's or John Grisham's or anybody else's - to the point that he had mastered them.

And then he kept writing.

The best piece of advice he ever got in all those years of struggling and writing was a line scrawled at the bottom of a rejection letter from an unknown editor: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%.

Okay, so there is a formula.

But that's for revisions.


Keri Mikulski said...

So true!! ;) Great post.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Ah, that equation is spot on. As painful as it feels, there is no substitute for revision or hitting "delete."

Pen Pen said...

I've read that too! I love King! He's just the Overlord of my universe! If I ever met him, I'd pass out...then cry...then pass out again! :)

I think the most important thing with writing is not getting bogged down trying to make that first draft "publishing ready". I really had to accept that the first draft will for sure suck and/or make little sense.
But- You must not have read my post on the magic writing candle!!!
Read this!

Barrie said...

That book was an eye opener for me, too. As was Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I think of her book every time I get overwhelmed. Which is pretty often. Like today. And then I think "bird by bird" or "scene by scene." No need to tackle the whole enchilada in one day. Great post!

adrienne said...

Great equation!