Sunday, April 19, 2009

Writing That Book

I'm starting to understand my brother.

My oldest brother, Phil, is a great writer who, way back in the day when he and I went to community college together, would write a research paper on how the Vikings' view of the afterlife affected their fighting styles. The instructor would hand our papers back with little murmured comments, and then last of all he would pause and say, "But Phil. . . " Then he would rhapsodize about the amazingness of Phil's paper, and we got the feeling this made his long teaching career worthwhile at last.

I wasn't jealous, surprisingly enough, probably because I wasn't trying to compete with him.

So we go ahead a few years, and Phil begins the Great American Novel. I root for him because I know he has it in him.

Years pass. I start writing for publication, little stories about what happens to me, which are about 15% as literary and polished as Phil's writing, but whatever. He keeps writing his novel.

More years pass. Sometimes I ask Phil how his novel is coming; usually I leave it alone. Once I sit him down and give it to him with both barrels: he has got to start putting something out there for publication. If not a novel, then short stories. He has it in him; it shouldn't go to waste.

He gives me a chapter of his novel to read. I don't "get" it. We quit discussing the subject.

I keep writing little stories about my life for almost ten years.

And then I get an idea for a novel. I talk about it, write about it, get more ideas, take notes, think about it.

But I don't write it.

And then I get opportunities handed to me on silver platters, stuff my struggling-novelist friends would give their eyeteeth for--Harvest House comes calling, Good Books says, No no! We have dibs on a novel, we want it first.

And just the other day a woman who seems to be some sort of fancy editor/agent wrote and told me she heard I want to write fiction and wants to work with me.

And here is the honest idiotic truth: I am scared out of my mind. Talking and taking notes and tossing ideas around are the easy part, mere foothills to climb, risk-free and fun. Actually sitting down and writing feels like heading up Mt. Hood--enormous beyond belief, terrifying, impossible.

When I teach a class on memoir writing I tell the students the basic mantras of writing: Just start. You have to write bad before you can write good. You can do anything for 15 minutes a day.

Maybe I need to start taking my own advice.

Meanwhile, as I said, I finally understand my brother better.

P.S. Tuesday the 21st...would you believe I got a letter from Mom yesterday and she said Phil has actually finished his book?! Now to make sure he pursues a publisher....

Quote of the Day: [or: Why We Love Big Brothers]
Paul: Jenny, what's with your socks??
Jenny: Why?
Paul: They don't match!
Jenny: It's the Smucker girl fashion! First Emily started it, then Amy, and now I do it too.
Ben: Well, it goes right along with your mismatched brains! Hah hah hah!!


  1. You'll be fine! You just take it step by step, prayer by prayer, day by day, page by page ... and before long you will have reached the summit of your 'un-climbable' mountain!
    Nothing is impossible if God, the source of your talent, is in this!
    Blessings, aimee

  2. I understand how you feel. I've been working on my novel for 4 yrs now.

    Thankfully, there are a bunch of good forums and stuff for Christian writers on the net. I've met some really nice people online that live very far away from me. And they have really helped me improve my writing skills.

    I need to follow your advice, too. I'm a terrible procrastinator.

    Anyway, I think that any novel you write will be a success. You have very good insight into people.

  3. Well, I'm waiting for that book. Eagerly. Mary Horst

  4. And I vowed myself to secrecy lest I in some bizarre way jinks the whole thing, as I watched him scratching out the novel with pencil and paper, a smile, feet propped up on the coffee table, pepto by his side, coffee, waterbottle, and my dad moaning in the background.... and as the wife of Phil, I still haven't even asked a question to him and I barely know what he even wrote!!! I won't jinks it, will i, if i post this???