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  • Erica Darnell

How Books are Born Part I: Slow Motion Pirates


Erica Darnell

Have you ever asked an author "How did you become a professional writer?" and received an extremely vague response?

Me too.

This seems unfair, doesn't it? Why can't someone simply point me in the right direction so I know how to get started? I grew frustrated when polling those I considered to be well established novelists. I began to think they were purposely choosing ambiguity in their description of the process, as if to keep their secrets from the rest of the world. Like scientologists and freemasons, they held their cards close to their chest.

I was so wrong. (This is something my husband knows I don't say often.) If I told you there was a formula for moving a story from your mind to paper, that would be an outright lie. But if you're genuinely curious if you have what it takes, I can say this: Those who wander and wonder, those who are willing to take chances, those who can dedicate copious amounts of time to something that might end in nothing -- they are writers. No one embarks on a mapped out, well planned, perfectly timed trip and calls it an adventure. And anything worth writing begins with adventure.

I think these quotes about the process pretty much sum it up best:

"We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down." --Kurt Vonnegut

"Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on." --Louis L'Amour

"Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." --E. L. Doctorow

Yes! To all the things! Once I finally sat down and just started to write, my book happened. I grew nervous frequently in the beginning, doubting my product. I believed in a lie that I could not possibly write a book without formal training. (Looking back, I realize no one ever said that to me. It was my own lie that I had to disprove.)

To battle my confidence deficiency, I began releasing blurbs of my writing to friends and family. With much hand-wringing, I awaited the responses. I only gave it to people who I knew would let me down gently, of course, but it is still nerve racking to say "Check this out. It is mine and mine alone...so if it sucks, my bad." Much to my delight, they loved it and begged for more.

I took the next scary step and gave my work in its infancy to two professionals in the writing community who were willing to critique it. After all, if I'm going to devote my time to writing over 80,000 words, I need assurance that it isn't complete garbage. They both said they enjoyed it and that I should continue. They gave me feedback on how to grow as a writer. They even pointed me in the right direction, explaining how to join different groups for more critiques. At last, the gates of the writing community let out a creak and opened! I walked in with my finger guns blazing. I blew out my imaginary index finger smoke and moved to the next step.

The Long Haul. Shoo mercy. Never have I tormented myself over fictional characters with such ferocity. (And trust me, I invest myself when I'm reading. Remember blog #1, books can cause face leakage.) I hoped with them, I grieved with them, and I put them in some pretty crappy situations -- poor muffins. This journey surprised me, actually. I knew where I wanted to go and how to start, but the middle was like a slow motion swash-buckling scene with conflicted pirates. Some of them didn't make it, I'm sad to say. I beheld their slow motion deaths and mourned them.

My few slow motion pirates turned into a crew, they boarded a ship, they attained a somewhat schizophrenic compass (me), and the book began to sail itself. All I had to do was tell them how it would unfold. (no, for literal folks, my book is not about pirates.) Easy? No. Fun? Oh yes.

Some days I wrote for 8 hours straight, but there were also dry spells when I went for weeks without writing. Sometimes my husband arrived home and I would shoot out the door to the nearest Starbucks to write. (Bless the baristas who bestowed upon me the liquid wakey juice.) A couple times I even stopped, knowing my allotted time to write had come to an end, only to return 10 minutes later because I simply couldn't stop the gears of my mind. But never through my entire novel did I break out a secret formula to follow.

And thus, my book was born. It is a work of passion, a work of love, sometimes a work of loathing, but it was always work made light by my love for story telling. If you're considering writing, do it. Stop considering and planning. Sit down and do it. It will be messy and ugly but you will love it.

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