I’ve wanted to write fiction for as long as I can remember. I actually started over forty years ago with a novel (thankfully buried) and a couple of hundred short stories. Then life intervened and I found my writing oriented more towards technical papers and magazine/newspaper articles. No, my fictional aspirations were not completely abandoned – I started (note the word) well over a dozen novels, whose premature deaths after a hundred pages or so only served to make me even more frustrated. What was I doing wrong?
It took me a while to figure it out.
I certainly had the time.
My job kept me continually travelling, seemingly between international airports and sterile hotel rooms around the world, and this provided me with huge doses of ‘dead time’ that I could devote to writing. Yet it didn’t happen because usually I’d use the airport/flight time to prepare for meetings and the hotel time to crash and recharge batteries after 16 hour plus days and time-zone differences. What about the weekends, you may ask. Well, often I was returning from ‘somewhere on a different time-zone’ on Saturdays, and Sundays I was teaching free martial arts classes to a bunch of kids in the morning, leaving me only with the afternoon for family – with inevitable consequences.
I had the ideas.
Not only do I have an extremely fertile mind for generating storylines, I have also been formally trained in an inordinate number of sophisticated problem-solving techniques by some of the best – and still use many of these tricks to plot my novels today.
I had the motivation.
It’s in my blood; I can’t really describe it any other way. When I completed my new novel in 2006, it was like having discovered the Holy Grail – I felt liberated, soaring at dizzying heights only meant for eagles.
Yet, before then, I wasn’t writing.
I realised much of the cause was subtle, insidious procrastination, also known as FEAR. I have always excelled at my job, being able to consistently come up with out-of-the-box solutions for my clients’ problems usually under considerable pressure, and at my martial arts, achieving fourteen high-grade black belts in different disciplines. Yet writing eluded me. Was it because I was afraid I wouldn’t make the grade?
Never one to back down before a challenge (and, boy, has this got me into trouble over the years!) I turned the problem on its head. Not, ‘why can’t I write?’, but ‘what’s stopping me from writing?’
At first glance, the same question, yet there’s a fine difference in the wording which programs the mind to answer differently.
I quickly realised that, really, the answer was… NOTHING!
Next step? Address my fears.
Not good enough? Then become better! How does a writer do this? There are only two ways: learn technique from others, and WRITE!
I live in a country where it seems you can only be considered an author if you write essays or dense, introspective ‘literary’ fiction (preferably about the Spanish Civil War). Screw ‘em! Ignore the critics – as I remarked to a friend recently, envy isn’t always green; it’s often black and white! I don’t care what they think, and labels have only ever served to slow down progress. I wanted to write to entertain! Nothing more. I wanted my novels to be chosen by people looking for a dose of evasion in airports and hotels while away on business, or lying on a beach somewhere when vacation time comes around. At a pinch, even for a long train journey! A simple-enough objective, but one I wanted to do well.
I have a life philosophy based upon three simple premises: one which I developed and use as a basis for my martial art lessons (learn the mechanics – internalise them [i.e. adapt them to yourself] – and forget them [they become you]); one which a martial arts GrandMaster told me: ‘use what is useful, and throw the rest away’; and finally: never go to bed without having learnt something new. These in turn are all tempered by ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously!’
So I applied this in earnest to my writing.
I didn’t try to write. No, that’s a BIG MISTAKE. Trying implies you are allowing for failure.
Don’t try, just Write. Write for yourself not an imaginary following of millions of fans. I’ve had a very complex life, full of strange, even dangerous, always ‘interesting’, events which now fuel my tales. Writing about that stuff, even though it’s hidden behind a cloak of deliberate obfuscation, is FUN! Not only is it cheaper than a Psychiatrist, it makes me feel good every time I finish a writing session. I decided to get ‘hooked’ on that feeling - a mixture of satisfaction and pride; of accomplishment and triumph over whatever obstacles the day presented.
My biggest discovery was that there is no such thing as an Aspiring Writer.
Either you are or you’re not a writer. It’s all in the (your) mind.
So, to those ‘aspiring’ writers out there, and anyone else who might be thinking about taking the plunge, I say the following:
Do it TODAY!
‘Aspiring’ ain’t going to get it done, bro!
Have FUN, above all else!
The Chinese have a saying, half curse, half blessing: 'May you live in interesting times!'
These are 'Interesting Times!
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com