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Sherry Jones: Start Writing, or Shut Up

Posted: 02/17/2012 10:30 am

By Sherry Jones

Here's a question for all those folks who say to me, "I want to write, but I can't find the time." What do you expect from me? Sympathy? Hand-holding? A motivational speech?

Remember Danny DeVito as Owen in Throw Momma From the Train? "A writer writes," was his mantra. That's what I tell people. Otherwise, you're not a writer. You're a wanna-be.

I've heard the excuses. One guy is too tired after working a full-time job to come home and write. Of course, if he wanted to write, he'd be getting up at 5 a.m., as many do, to get those words down before the day begins -- or he'd write on his lunch hour. Another says his teenager takes over the family computer and he can't get on it. Have to accompany your kid to soccer practice? Bring your laptop along and write in the car, anywhere you can. That's what Montana author Mildred Walker used to do (with a notepad and pen) while accompanying her husband, a country doctor, on house calls. Or try "neglecting" your kids for an hour every day while you lock yourself in a room to write. They'll probably need counseling someday, but so do we all.

We do the things that we really want to do. Do you think the musicians playing Carnegie Hall had their parents badgering them to practice? When I was a kid, I loved to play piano so much that my mother had to make me stop practicing. ("You're driving your father crazy," she would say, meaning that he couldn't hear the television set.)

Do Olympian athletes qualify for the games with half-heartedness, dithering and complaining about all the demands on their time, or are they training with dedication, hard work and an eye on the prize?

I decided in the second grade, thanks in part to the encouragement of my teachers, that I wanted to be a writer. From then on, I wrote: diary entries, poems, stories, letters, plays, mock newspapers, yearbook copy, articles for my high school newspaper. I was always writing something, and reading, too. When I was 18, I worked at my local newspaper, the Kinston Daily Free Press, doing the grunt work -- covering Rotary Club meetings, writing about high school football games, doing the Saturday police beat -- while going to college full-time.

I wanted to write novels, yes. Since I didn't know what to write about, though, I contented myself with journalism, honing my craft. At 40, I arranged to job-share at the Missoulian, where I had worked full-time, so I could finish my college degree in creative writing. For five years I wrote journalism for 20 hours a week, went to college first full-time and then part-time, and raised my young daughter single-handedly. If anyone had the right to complain about not having time to write, it was me. But guess what? During those five years I also researched, wrote, and revised -- seven times -- my debut novel, The Jewel of Medina.

Don't cry for me. Writing is my passion. I love to write, and I'm fortunate to be able to do so. But don't come to me expecting a pity party when you confess that you want to be a writer, too, if only you could find the time.

Someone famous -- I am sorry, but I cannot find the quote any more -- said that most people who say they want to write really want to have written, and published, a book. I agree.

Maybe you're one of these people. Maybe you've fallen for the myth that writing is excruciatingly difficult. I think writers say this to keep the competition to a minimum. If writing were so torturous, fewer would do it. I'm not saying it's easy, but it's not rocket science, or brain surgery, or even, as I heard one author say, "like banging your head against a brick wall." (He's in the wrong profession, I say.)

For me, writing is sheer joy, a pleasure even on the worst of days. It's what I want to do, every day for the rest of my life -- not only what I want to do, but what I do.

Can't find the time to write? Life is short. Stop with the angst, already. If you're not writing, you don't really want to. Go find something that yanks your chain. Do that, and leave us writers alone.

Sherry Jones is the author of the internationally best-selling novel The Jewel of Medina and, coming this spring from Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books, Four Sisters, All Queens and White Heart: A Tale of Blanche de Castille, the White Queen of France. To find out more about Sherry and to buy her books, visit her on Red Room.

 

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