Writing the Best Book You Can Write

© 2007, The Oregonian

Once you write the best book you can write – and that’s the point of all these workshops – what happens to it is almost completely out of your control.

Here’s the deal. Let’s resort to analogy to make this perfectly clear. Writing fiction is like any other avocation that can be undertaken by anyone, anytime. There are those at the top of the field who succeed wildly and get rich and famous – hence, the aforementioned Chuck Palahnuik – and there are those who, no matter how hard they labor, will be forever scanning the ads of the Publish-On-Demand outfits that will print your book for a fee that requires you to sell a paperback for fifteen bucks to make a couple for yourself. It’s a lot like golf (see my first and second blogs on this site). Many people play the game – about as many as those who aspire to write a novel, in fact – some better than others. But the bad ones keep playing, they take lessons, and they still manage to enjoy a game that offers them absolutely no future. It’s all about the experience, the sense of joy that comes with just being out there. Ask yourself how many of the folks waiting in line at the first tee on Saturday morning have a serious intention of turning pro at the game? To make their living at it, even to become rich and famous at it? Answer: zip. And yet, thousands upon thousand of writers pay to sit in writing workshops with partially-finished manuscripts in their backpacks, and each and every one of them intends to turn pro, to publish, and in the most secret place of their heart’s desire, to get rich and famous doing so.

I said this at that keynote that almost caused a mob riot, and I’ll say it again here: you can fit the number of rich and famous authors from the Northwest (where I live) into a booth at Denny’s. And a couple of those are dead.

If this is true, then, why do all these nice folks keep coming back to the conferences and workshops and symposiums that promise to show them how to do the very thing that the odds say is next to impossible? And why do they keep asking me to come back and teach them how to make their writing dreams a reality?

I think I know the answer. It’s the same thing that keeps me at the computer late at night, trying to get my work back into the bookstore. It’s the very essence of passion, the stuff of fantasy and the currency of actually being fully alive. It’s called hope. Hope fuels the writer who continues to seek the holy grail of publication. And to them I say, hang in there. Set the bar high, because we, your teachers, can’t really tell you how high it needs to be or we’ll get thrown back into the parking lot. Keep coming to the workshops, keep learning, and most of all keep writing. Because in the end, I’ve also figured out why they keep asking me back. It’s as simple as this, and as true: if it can happen to me, and it did, it can happen to you, too.

And if you hang here with me long enough, it just might.

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