The Blank Page…

“I love to read thrillers,” many readers say.

“Or maybe I’ll dip into a horror story on this dreary, rain-soaked day.”

For writers, horror does not need to be written to be experienced. A writer experiences a heart-stopping horror story every time they sit down to compose a new piece.

The blank page. The menacing blank page.

It strikes fear into the hearts of even the most experienced authors.

“What if I can’t come up with anything new?”

“What if what I’ve written so far is all I’ll ever write?”

Writing is fear. If you haven’t experienced fear as a writer, you’ve clearly never edited anything.

Writing is bearing your soul with the hope that someone will gaze upon it with compassion, understanding, care. And then putting all your hope in a business that wants to sell your soul in amongst the sci-fi or the mysteries.

Every day, I wake up hopeful of two things.

Maybe I’ll write something good today.

Maybe I’ll read something good today.

I love what I do. Sure, I love to write, though it is quite a lonely pursuit. And it requires other people to do for me what I love doing for anyone I can. When I read a truly good new story in my position as an intern for the wonderful agent I work with, I immediately think, This needs to be on shelves everywhere. In the hands of readers. Being read and enjoyed. And, to whatever extent I can make that happen, I then champion the book. I’ll work with the author to smooth the rough edges. I’ll suggest fixes here, deletions there. I am personally on the lookout to remove every that or just or had which does not serve a story. “Tighten the prose, people!” When I say this, I imagine I’m the captain of a ship in a storm, securing its hatches as we get pummeled in the waves.

In that sense, if not any others, I end each day closer to publication. Be it for me or someone I know. So while I wake up each day–as do any authors who are being honest–afraid of the blank page, at the conclusion of a day I’m always thinking, Publication is possible. It’s one day closer. And, though I can’t write without this trusty computer, I imagine writing myself a note and keeping it permanently on my nightstand to glance at when I need the idea reinforced.

“Dear Derek,

You are a writer. This means you must write. You must be involved with the written word. somehow It also means you wake each day with an old fear burgeoning anew. A fear of the blank page. A fear that you can’t do what you were put on earth to do. Try to think of the blank page as that friend you envy; even though you’re trapped in a palsied body, Blank Page can be anyone he wants to be, can go anywhere he wants to go. You just have to tell him who and where.”

 

 

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The Lost Art Of Loyalty

This is a story. It is fictional. Any resemblance to actual people, while intended as an honor, is not intended as a re-telling of any event that has actually taken place, or ever will. It is a piece speculating on how a writer might find a second novel in among his musings, and a reminder to remember why a writer writes, in the first place.

We must find that agent and that publisher, in our writing journey, who will be as loyal to us–and to our first book, be it a mega-seller or a modest performer–as to our last.

The book was a big hit. It was after it hit, the sound reverberating through the “book world”, that several media outlets clambered to know what he’d do next. A sequal? A new novel whose characters have only minimal ties to the characters people grew to so love? they speculated.

He was scared. Sure, readers had loved his book–his baby, had treated it with the kind of reverence he could only have dreamed of previously, before anyone knew his name–but what if they detested his next effort? What would his next effort be? Despite the speculation, he had no idea. He didn’t like any of the ideas occupying his mind right now. No wonder Harper Lee never wrote another book, he thought. I don’t blame her.

He called his best friend for advice. Since childhood, Luke had always been that guy, the guy he trusted to tell it to him straight, even if straight wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. Often, it was the one he needed. Am I freaking out for no good reason? he wondered, to pass the time as the phone rang.

“Hey, dude, what’s up?” A second-ring answer.

Yep, that’s Luke. Glad I called. And happy to help, if I need a hand. Which, in a figurative sense, I do right now more than ever.

“I’ve finally got everything I’ve ever wanted,” he explained, despensing with any preamble. “Readers. A real publisher. So why aren’t I…?” He searched for the word, couldn’t find it.

“Happy?” Luke ventured.

“No, that’s not it. I’m happy. I’m just not…”

“Content?”

“Yeah. When I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a writer. We both did. I struggled like hell to get there. But I finally did. So, now that I’ve got what I wanted all those years ago, why aren’t I content?”

“How long has it been since we hung out? You and I?” Luke asked, after a pause.

“I don’t know,” the author said, not liking the taste of that truth on his tongue.

“Six months. It’s been six months, dude. Now, you know me. I’m never gonna begrudge you your dream, and I know you wouldn’t begrudge me mine. But what was it you said to me when we were kids? You said, and I quote, ‘If I ever lose sight of why I write, you be sure to let me know, okay?’ Today, I’m letting you know.”

“I’m sorry that we haven’t hung out in a while. But we both got busy. You have to admit that.”

Luke gave an mm-hmmm in acknowlesgement.

“And then my book hit. And, just like that, the roller-coaster started. I finally had the chance to prove all those people who ever doubted me were dead-wrong.”

“I’m your best friend, man,” Luke said. “So you can go half a year and not talk to me if you want–I hope you won’t, from now on; I hope you’re back to stay–and our friendship won’t change. But there are two things you need to remember.

“Your book may be big right now, bud,  but in the end it’s just a book. It’s just a story printed on pages bound between covers. A humble piece of art. It may have struck a chord wit the public, but that chime, as so many others before it, will fade.”

“What’s the second thing I need to remember?” The author wanted to change the subject, in any way he could.

“That the people who believed in you from the start, before the agent, the publisher, the readers, the book signings, the whatever-else–I’m talking about your brothers and your sister, your parents, your girlfriend, me–we didn’t need your book to sell to have your talent confirmed to us. We knew it was there and it was real all along. You used to be someone who believed in loyalty and humility…”

“I think I still am that person…” I hope, anyway.

“Someone who had a fire in his belly to be great. And now… sure, your book’s big, but are you the great man you always wanted to be? I’d be willing to bet you’re not there yet. Because, somewhere deep inside, you’re worried that you were just a flash in the pan. That that one book might be all you’ll ever do. And that worry is frightening your talent, so that it doesn’t want to show itself. It doesn’t want to give you anything more. And you waited so long to call me… because you didn’t want me to confirm what you already feared you knew.

“Now, it’s time for your talent to stop being afraid of what it might accomplish, and it’s time for you to stop being afraid of your talent.  It’s there to help you, if you’ll let it. You’re a writer, no matter how many books that publisher of yours asks you for. Who cares if they don’t like your next book, as long as you like it? You’re a writer because you want to be a writer, and no one can take that designation away from you  but you.

“But, more than that, you’ve always tried your best to be humble and loyal. That effort isn’t lost on the people who appreciate you most. Don’t let that guy get lost in all that you’re doing now. And, just because loyalty is a lost art in business,  that  doesn’t mean it should be a lost art in life.”

“Now, how about we meet up for lunch?” Luke finishes. “Giving my friends advice makes me hungry.”

Fighting Through Doubt

I just spent my toughest hour yet of editing moving this passage here and that paragraph there. Reworking. Rewriting. Rethinking.
I went into the work with a clear vision, and I leave it for the day hoping I’ve done right. Greeting doubt on my way out the office door. To lose faith is so simple, so easy everyone has a talent for it. To maintain faith requires guts. And the ability to stare Doubt in the face and tell him he doesn’t frighten you.
It’s okay to say that. Even though you’re lying and you know it. Maybe one day it’ll be true. I’d like to believe that day will come when I reach publication, though I fear that, even then, Doubt will play a significant role.