The one thing I hear most from people when they find out I am a published author, is about their own desire to write a book (I read a stat somewhere that roughly 81 percent of people want or plan to write a book someday, but don’t quote me).
There seems to be this idea that the writing life is an easy, glamorous one. The appeal of it overwhelms the truth. What is that truth? That writing is hard, agonizing work that generally, but not always, doesn’t make authors rich.
My new business cards for my freelance writing business bears a quote from Ernest Hemingway that I think says it all: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Leave it to Hemingway to say it best.
What does it take to bleed a book? First, it takes discipline. How many books are started but never finished? Probably about as many as those people who think they would like to write one. It’s one thing to dream about writing a book, another to start writing it, and a whole other world to actually finish it.
For example, Brit Darby books run about 100,000 words (okay, Emerald Prince was more like 140,000 or more), but let’s stick with the nice round number of 100,000. Going with the outdated mode of writing, as Hemingway did on an actual typewriter, with an average of 250 words per page in old-fashioned Courier typeface, you would type (or bleed) about 400 pages to reach THE END. Ever typed 400 pages?
And that’s just a first draft. To be a writer, you also need to be a decent proofreader. Preferably an editor, too. That means going back through your manuscript time and time again, all 400 pages until it is polished and ready for publication. Ever read a book over and over again? It is excruciatingly difficult, even if it’s your own stunning prose.
Next, if you are self-publishing, there is still the cover design, the blurbs to write, getting the e-book coding done properly, updating your website, blog, marketing the book … you get the picture. More grinding hard work. Soon it’s time to start that next wannabe best-seller. Wash, rinse, repeat.
To do this many times takes another thing besides grit — it takes talent. The talent to tell a story, hopefully one that hasn’t been told a million times before. The talent to develop a tight plot and believable characters. And the talent to bring it all to a satisfying end.
You must also have the ability to learn, to improve your craft with each outing, to develop a skill for bringing characters to life that readers will cherish and love. To have the patience to do the research so your details are correct, but have the instinct to blend fact with fiction in the right proportions, at least if you’re tackling historical fiction like Brit Darby.
You must have humility when you read a great review so as to not let it go to your head, and a thick skin for the bad one so it doesn’t break your heart and your spirit. I’m lucky to write with a partner, so those times when I’m discouraged and wonder why I do what I do, she picks me up and gives me the words of encouragement I need to hear, and vice-versa. For many who write alone, though, it’s a tougher road.
It takes a strong dedication to write books. And a need to write no matter what. Does that describe you? If so, get ready to bleed.