How I Write

[This is the fifth and, for now, final installment of words of wisdom gleaned by writers who have recently entered the wonderful world of publishing. This episode is by Doris Reidy, a dear friend and one helluva good writer. Please, read on. You won’t regret it!]

Or: There Once Was a Girl With a Bucket

Too often my doctors begin sentences by saying, “When we get older…” It’s usually the preface to something I don’t want to hear. But to borrow that phrase: When we get older, we start composing Bucket Lists. There was only one thing on mine, and it was in red caps:                                                    WRITE A BOOK.

I’d read thousands of novels, but somehow giving birth to one of my own seemed impossible. Paralyzed, I sat atop a large pile of “can’ts”: I can’t write fiction, can’t create dialog, can’t develop characters – you name it, I couldn’t do it.

Then along came a writing teacher (hint: initials JL), who said that a plot is simply a person in a place with a problem. Aha! I can do that. I’m surrounded by people in places with problems; after all, I am one. Five books and dozens of short stories later, that mantra still works.

People ask about my writing schedule. I wish I had one — it sounds more professional — but I don’t. I write when the spirit moves me. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t move me at all, and then I follow the two-pages-a-day rule. I sit down and write two pages. Then I go on about my life. The next day, I write two more pages. Eventually, something will catch fire in my brain, and I’ll write twenty pages. The important thing is to keep plugging away. Slow progress beats no progress.

So what gets me started? A character. When I know what she wears, eats, thinks, loves, hates, what makes her laugh, what she won’t stand for, where she lives, and what her problem is, then it’s just a matter of accompanying her on her adventures.

I wrote my first novel, Five for the Money, in scenes. When a brilliant idea hit me, I’d write that scene. Soon I had a batch of vignettes in no particular order. Oh Lordy, trying to stitch them all together cohesively! I learned to write in chronological order.

Surprisingly, characters and action fade from mind, my mind at least, even while I’m writing. It’s hard to remember on page 127 what I said Uncle Nester’s last name was earlier in the book. Did I introduce him at the barn dance? Or… wait… was it at the end of the zombie apocalypse? It helps to keep a running chapter summary. It’s much easier to track Nester down that way.

For me, the joy of writing is getting diverted by the unexpected. I’m not an outline person, but I sometimes stop around the middle and make a loose plan to get me to the end. My books run about 40-50,000 words. I was afraid they were too short, but people tell me they like shorter books with easily digestible chapters, especially on e-readers.

When the first draft is done, I need feedback. Here’s where I owe a big debt of thanks to my critique group and first readers. They give generously of their time and expertise to make me a better writer. I treasure the brave souls who tell me what I need to hear.

Finally holding in my hands a book I’ve written is sweet, but then the hard part starts. Marketing. (Cue ominous music.) Each year between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published in the United States alone. As many as half are self-published and on average they sell fewer than 250 copies each. Dreams of lucrative royalty checks die a’screaming. We who don’t have the muscle of a large publishing house behind us, struggle for readers.

Which begs the question, why do it? Why sit alone, tapping away on a keyboard while the other kids are out playing kickball in the street? There’s ego involved, if I’m honest, the belief that you’ll be interested in what I have to say. Then there’s the satisfaction of seeing a difficult undertaking through to the end.

But what really motivates me is the chance to make a connection, to forge a bond between writer and reader. I’ll tell you a story. Maybe you’ll like it. That puts a big, red ! on my Bucket List and makes it all worthwhile.

[Copied below are the covers from Doris’s other four books. They’re available in both paperback and ebook formats. You can find them all right HERE. Or, visit her webpage, “Second Acts,” and look for her latest bit of flash fiction. Here’s the link: 

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Guest posts, novel writing, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to How I Write

  1. Judith M. McManus says:

    Yes, Doris…there is a Santa Claus and his initials are JL. Like you, I never thought I could piece a book together. Really enjoyed your installment, and would love to meet you! –Judy McManus

  2. rdmumford says:

    Thank you Doris Reidy and Thank you Josh for posting this series!

    • joshlangston says:

      People can usually achieve much more than they think they can. The trick, all too often, is finding motivation. Once you know you can do something, doing it again becomes much, much easier.

  3. polinto says:

    What an impressive row of accomplishments!

  4. Susanne says:

    My goodness, you’re positively prolific!

  5. MaryCan says:

    Gosh almighty, I can compliment two good writers at one time! Plus, they are both friends, how nice. Josh, thanks for encouraging her, and Doris, thanks for heeding his advice.

  6. An-l says:

    Thank you both, Doris and Josh, for all the wonderful hours of enjoyment I’ve received reading your books. I keep hoping, maybe one day some of your talents and energy will rub off on me.

  7. Barry Womack says:

    Thanks, Doris. I needed to read that.

    On Sun, Nov 25, 2018 at 7:36 AM Sage of the South wrote:

    > joshlangston posted: “[This is the fifth and, for now, final installment > of words of wisdom gleaned by writers who have recently entered the > wonderful world of publishing. This episode is by Doris Reidy, a dear > friend and one helluva good writer. Please, read on. You won’t reg” >

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