Writing, the Olympics, Stephen King and Twinkling Bats

(I’ll take “Things that Don’t Normally Go Together for $1000, Alex”…)

Last Wednesday night I taught a class at the Sacramento Public Library (Robbie Waters Branch) titled “Law for the Self-Published Author.” In reality, the class includes far more than law. We talked about Twitter, marketing, writing, legal issues and scam avoidance, as well as many other topics – hopefully of interest.

When I speak to groups of authors, I frequently spend the next few days pondering writing. (The fact that I’m currently reading Stephen King’s ON WRITING probably doesn’t hurt.)

Writing and the Olympics have a lot in common – and not just the “pursuing your dreams” connection (though that’s certainly enough to make the link). Athletes spend much of their time in training, away from the public eye. They strain and sweat and push themselves to the limit of their capacities to perfect a performance that may – or may not – ever find a public audience. More than 90% will never make the Olympics – just as more than 90% of writers will never publish a book (and that includes both traditional and independent forms – it’s a fact that most aspiring authors never finish a manuscript.)

But they train for it anyway.

Authors take note.

Writing isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It isn’t a seven-course meal served up on fine china with candlelight and a bottle of good merlot. More often than not, it’s nose-in-the-dirt, hands on the keys, with a strong sense that you and your manuscript are more worthy of defenestration than publication.

Write anyway.

In On Writing, Stephen King gives permission for you to write “only” 1,000 words a day, and “only” six days a week. I laughed at that until I started doing it – six years ago. There are days I don’t write, but very few. There are days I don’t make 1,000 words – and when I first started there were many. There aren’t many anymore. The brain needs training like any other muscle, and like the athletes heading for London this summer you need to train if you want to become a success. Can’t make 1,000 words? Write 500. Can’t make 500? Write 50.

You can write fifty words. I’ve written 348 so far, and I’ve only been at this nine minutes. You don’t have to be fast, and the words don’t have to be good ones – fix it in editing (that’s what the rest of us do).

When you start writing regularly, even a little, the words and the process will grow. Ten minutes will stretch to twenty and those fifty words will become 500. But only if you try. The good news is, if you do try – and stick with it – eventually it becomes a habit and you’ll have to try to do anything else.

Case in point? Twinkle Twinkle. Most of you know the lullaby, and you know it involves a star. Some of you may also remember the Mad Hatter’s version involving a bat. I’ve always been partial to that one, and when my son was young I sang it to him that way. (We’ll leave my psychiatric issues for another day.) A few months ago, a good friend of mine invited me to have dinner at her home. Afterward, we put her daughters to bed, had coffee and talked about author things. While putting the girls to bed, however, we sang them some lullabies – including the aforementioned one about a certain twinkling star.

But my version came out as “little bat.”

I intended to sing the one about the star – I really did – but after almost twenty years of twinkling bats on the brain, my vocal chords rejected the order for “star.”

Writing works the same way. If you want to do it – do it – and eventually you’ll have no other option. It will become as much a part of you as an athlete’s running pace or a twinkling bat.

3 thoughts on “Writing, the Olympics, Stephen King and Twinkling Bats

  • July 16, 2012 at 1:02 am

    If you get a chance, Margaret Atwood’s book, Negotiating with the Dead is a excellent read on the craft of writing.

    Words are like wild horses you have to rein them in then set them free.

    • July 16, 2012 at 8:49 am

      Thanks for the recommendation Sandy, I will definitely check it out. Margaret Atwood is an inspiring writer and it would be interesting to hear her thoughts on craft!

  • July 20, 2012 at 1:59 am

    But the bat version is better! Katherine takes after me in that she loves bats too 🙂 They are awesome little critters. If I could have a fruit bat or a flying fox for a pet we totally would!

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