When a group of people is enjoying some social event, also attended by a writer, someone is sure to come up to the latter and say, "I hear you're an author. Interesting. Tell me how you do it."
The writer is likely to reply, "By hard work. Just like any other job."
"I'll never believe that. Where do your ideas come from?"
"Mostly I have to dig for them, it isn't easy. And sometimes one is afflicted by what is known as writer's block, when thoughts and words refuse to come. This can be caused by trivial things: editors' comments, remarks made by a friend who has been permitted to read some of an unfinished manuscript -- best not to let anyone read it before it is published."
"Oh, I know. Someone might steal your plot."
"That's not it at all. Plagiarism isn't that common. It's usually only the would-be author who fears that."
"Oh. Then let me tell you. I could write the world's best book if only I could find time. My problem is that I don't know which publisher to choose."
"You can worry about that after you've received enough rejection slips."
"You mean a good, finished, neatly typed book wouldn't be accepted right away? Well, I'll tell you what I have in mind. . . ."
The writer sighs, tries to summon up patience, is braced for listening. As his mind wanders he considers it odd that few people realize that writing is a craft which has to be learned by trial and error, by the sweat of one's brow.
What started me thinking along these lines was a gathering which recently, reluctantly, I attended. Someone asked what sort of things I write and I answered that I write different things, books, articles, short stories, and that , a long time ago, I used to write poems -- but for some odd reason I never wrote a poem after I did my first book of prose.
"What kind of books?"
I made my usual reply. "Good ones."
The next question, of course, was "Where do you get your ideas?"
People who have taken courses in creative writing amaze me with the information they pass on. To begin with, "creative writing" is a ridiculous term, as writing, of some kind, is something most of us do every day. Writing a shopping list has to be creative; so do letter writing and a lot of other things.
Some instructors tell students to sit down and write so many hours a day whether any ideas flow or not, and if no word can be written, at least stare at the typewriter and try to dredge up something.m
For me, this does not work, at least not often. I do my best when excited by what I hope is a good idea, but when I grind out words with determination they are seldom much good. However, when a deadline has to be met there comes a kind of enthusiasm, perhaps forced, which keeps me going and doing a good job of it.
When my mind was more blank than usual an editor came and talked me into writing what I feel to be an excellent book. Once I was telling a writer friend about a story I though he should write and he said, "Aw, write it yourself," and so I did.
It is unusual when a bookm writes itself, but on one occasion this did happen, and I was never more excited or delighted. I could scarcely wait to see what my typewriter would say next. Yet people who have never been published (and may have little chance of ever being) are constantly filled with ideas and happy to write night and day. I envy them and feel that such diligence will be rewarded sooner or later.
When the first shinning copies of a new book come from the publishers I have a strange reaction. The finished product is a total stranger to me, something that just appeared in a mysterious manner. I had nothing to do with the writing of it, or the correcting of galleys and page proofs. My second feeling is one of despair. My head is empty and I just know I'll never write again.
Then's when something happens.