Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Lessons Inspired by Famous Authors

by Kara Cerise
Writing isn’t easy! Sometimes when I have a bad day and feel defeated, I read about well-known authors to learn from and be inspired by their experiences.

Here are some of my favorite lessons about writing and the writing life:

Be disciplined. Write because you love writing.
Cozy mystery author Charlotte MacLeod, who sold over 1 million copies of her books, was disciplined about writing. She wrote each morning beginning at 6 a.m. then revised her work in the afternoon. MacLeod began writing new books on Sundays. She wore her bathrobe to avoid the temptation of leaving the house to run errands.

MacLeod often stated that she so enjoyed writing books she would continue even if nobody ever read them.

You can write anywhere.
Author J.D. Salinger carried chapters of The Catcher in the Rye when he landed on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944 during the invasion of Normandy (D-Day). He fought, but he also wrote constantly from the beginning of the war until the end. One soldier remembered a time when their unit came under heavy fire. Everyone ducked for cover. He looked around and saw Salinger typing under a table. Salinger’s novel, which became a classic, was published seven years later.

Make the most of your time.
When J.K. Rowling was twenty-five years old, she was delayed while traveling by train from Manchester to London. During the four hour delay she said that the idea for Harry Potter simply “strolled into her head fully formed.” But her pen didn’t work and she was too shy to borrow one from a stranger. So, she sat and just thought. Rowling later said that if she had possessed a working pen and slowed down her thoughts to write, she might have stifled her ideas. However, she sometimes wonders how much of the story she forgot.

Capture the moment.
Attorney Francis Scott Key was aboard a British troopship to negotiate the release of an American civilian when the British began bombing Fort McHenry. He was detained on the ship which was anchored four miles from shore. After twenty-five hours of continuous bombing, it became quiet. On September 14, 1814 when Key saw the American flag flying over the fort in the early morning light, he took out a piece of paper and immediately wrote down what he was feeling. His untitled lyrics eventually became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.

Give Back.
There are SO many writers who give their time, talent, and money to help others that this section could be turned into a book. I chose one well-known author who I didn’t realize was so generous with her money until I wrote this blog.

Nora Roberts has a reputation for being an author who gives the most money to charity and as one of the top donors among all celebrities. She heads the
Nora Roberts Foundation which supports literacy, children's programs, humanitarian efforts, and arts organizations. The Nora Roberts Center for American Romance at McDaniel College is funded by a gift from her foundation. She has even auctioned some of her jewelry to support charitable causes.

Never. Give. Up.
Author Kathryn Stockett received 60 rejections for her book, The Help, which became a best seller and was made into a movie. She enthusiastically edited and worked on her story until the 40th rejection letter when she read the words, “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” She said that particular rejection letter made her cry and she subsequently spent a weekend in her pajamas. However, she was tenacious and continued to rewrite and submit.

After five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, agent Susan Ramer accepted Stockett and sold her story three weeks later. Stockett wrote that she can’t tell people how to succeed, but she knows the way not to—give into the shame of being rejected. Instead, you might do as Stockett did and “Give into your obsession instead.”

What have you learned from other writers?


Jim Jackson said...

These are good examples of folks who persevered. I wonder how their stories might be different in an age of easy self-publication. Would Stockett have given up too early and self-published a weaker version of her story that would go nowhere?

Would a later-day JK Rowlings be stuck on level one billion of Candy Crush?

Fortunately, they weren't, but your message is especially important when there is so many easy distractions.

~ Jim

Kara Cerise said...

Good questions, Jim. Stockett's novel was published in 2009--I suppose that's the cusp of self-publishing. But I think these people persevered because they felt compelled (obsessed) to write their story. Quitting wasn't an option. Stockett snuck out of the house on weekends to write and lied to her husband about it.

I also wonder if a later-day JK Rowling would have played Doodle Jump on her cell phone while stuck on the train. Or, maybe she would have used the phone's recorder to dictate notes about her story.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

encouraging and a bit discouraging. Onwards...

Warren Bull said...

Great examples. There are many more. It's the sort of thing to remember when feeling discouraged.

Warren Bull said...

Great examples. There are many more. It's the sort of thing to remember when feeling discouraged.

KM Rockwood said...

I think most of us would write even if no one ever read it. I know I would. Having readers is wonderful, and being published is absolutely the icing on the cake! Of course I'd love a wider audience, and have fantasies of a huge reading audience, but that's not as satisfying to me as writing.

Grace Topping said...

The thing I've learned about other writers is how generous they are with their time and help. If, or I should say when, my manuscript gets published, it will be because of the help I've received from other writers.

Kara Cerise said...

Margaret, ever onward and upward! Sometimes I think of the poem, "Charge of the Light Brigade," when I write.

Warren, I agree that there are many lessons to be learned from other writers.

Well said, KM. Crafting a story is satisfying even if nobody reads it.

You're right, Grace. Writers are such a generous and caring group! They'll be cheering for you when your manuscript is published.

carla said...

Tenacity is the key. I often say that the skills it takes to WRITE a novel are not the skills it takes to get it published. Need a new skill set: persistence, thick skin, determination, stubbornness, faith in your work, etc.

Kara Cerise said...

Thank you for your insightful comment, Carla. I hadn't considered the skills it takes to get published, just the skills needed to write a novel or screenplay. You've given me food for thought.

Gloria Alden said...

Kara, what an inspiring blog. I agree with KM that I wouldn't quite writing even if no one read my books because I have so many ideas perking in my brain, and I love writing.

Sarah Henning said...

These are great examples, Kara! Man, I feel like it's more "What haven't I learned?!" There is so much I've learned about verve, tension, dedication, etc., from other writers. I have many times felt like Rowling, awash with an idea but without a pen and then I wonder after I've finally written my ideas down what I forgot! I've tried getting things down on my phone or just repeating the idea to myself over and over (usually while running) but then I still feel like I forgot something crucial by the time I get home.

Kait said...

Great examples - And true. Two things that work every time, perseverance and butt in chair. I need to take a page from Rowling's book though. I always tell myself I will remember that great story line, but somehow, between idea and paper, it falls out of my brain, never to be seen again. She might have forgotten some of the story, but she remembered the good bits!

Kara Cerise said...

Gloria, your love of writing shows! I don't believe you will ever run out of ideas for stories or blogs.

Sarah, I understand that sinking feeling of forgetting something crucial. It often happens to me. Hopefully, we're able to think up even better ideas in place of the ones we forgot.

Kait, thank you for the excellent advice about persevering and staying glued to the chair!

Shari Randall said...

Oh, I love these Kara! Carla is right - tenacity is key. sorry I am late to the party!

Kara Cerise said...

You're not late, Shari. The blog party never stops!
"Tenacity is key" is now my motto.