A clarification

A point of clarification, with the Bearded iris lady in mind. By saying that one is not required to produce a book before one dies, I am by no means saying one should not do so if one wants to. By all means write a book, write ten books, I shall be very happy for you.

But when a person exhibits clear avoidance behavior, doing pretty much anything but the task at hand (ie, writing a book), I can think of only two solutions. One is to force matters and sit down and write. The other is to recognize that producing a book does not define you as a person. You have an interesting and productive life, one element of which is already writing. You could assemble an interesting book from your gardening columns if you wish, but your goal is the novel.

If you are asking, How do I force myself to sit down and write, that is not a question I am qualified to answer. When I began writing, I did so because I loved the process of building a novel, and never felt the need to force myself to proceed. Fifteen years on, there are times when I have to make myself stop fussing with closets and web sites, gather my thoughts, and put words on a page, but even now, when writing is inextricably linked with mortgage payments and looming deadlines, the frustration of an unfinished story is still the greater motivating factor.

Speaking objectively, you do not need to write a book to get a passing grade in life.

Speaking subjectively, from within yourself, this may not be true. You may feel so strongly that there is a book that needs to come out that if you don\’e2\’80\’99t write it, you have somehow failed.

If that is so, all I can say is, you need somehow to overcome those avoidance activities that are distracting you. You need to require yourself to produce one page every single day of the next year until that book is finished, and not get dressed or have lunch or check your email or whatever goal you set yourself until that page is in the world. It may be rubbish and shapeless–my first drafts invariably are–but it exists, as it did not exist when you woke up that morning.

You ARE a writer. You WANT to be a novelist. But the hard truth is, the only way to do it is one page at a time.

And–good luck, all you future novelists out there.


  1. This is actually a comment on something you said in an earlier post: “But what most people don\’e2\’80\’99t know is that each of the Martinellis contains an homage to Dorothy L. Sayers. Can you find them?”
    While I am a great fan of your Russell books, I have never yet gotten into the Martinellis. I prefer historical crime fiction to modern. But I might have to start reading them just to find the DLS references. Thanks to your brief mention of Lord Peter and Harriet and to the ensuing discussions on the RUSS-L web group, I began to read DLS’s mysteries and have become fascinated with them. Thank you!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Laurie, for taking me seriously at last. I keep hoping for easy answers to a diabolically difficult question … one with a different answer for every writer to whom the situation applies.

    In 1989, working full time as a university lab specialist doing genetic research, I came home from work, fed my children … attended night classes in photography … and then sat down and wrote a chapter in a tongue-in-cheek mystery every night before going to bed. The book wrote itself. I just put my fingers to the keyboard, and the story came.

    My family read the pages eagerly as they came from the printer. Friends (both OBGYNs) insisted on reading all I had written in one gulp while visiting from another town … causing a long delay in an outing we were about to undertake together. Neither family nor friends were predisposed to flatter me.

    Then, I developed a stomach ulcer, and was too ill to sit and write for several months. When I recovered, to my dismay, I could no longer write. Or should I say … I could write (garbage), but I could no longer access the venue through which my book had been flowing so effortlessly. I could no longer discipline myself to sit and write on a daily schedule. I have no idea why!

    I believe that the reason I can write my iris articles is because they are funny … about the funny side of iris gardening. But the novel I currently want to write is deeply psychological (though also funny), and delving deep into the psyche can be very painful. This book must be a mystery, because life is a mystery. I’m not at all concerned about publication … or selling … horror of horrors! All I want to do is get the words onto the page.

    I’m just finishing up an article for the April issue of the American Iris Society Bulletin, and My Tall Talk editor is clamoring for me to begin work on my article for the Fall 2006 issue. I think your suggestion (via snailmail) that I write an iris mystery is a good one. It would guarantee me, if published, a readership among irisarians around the world. Aging Iris lady, walking in beauty at Laughingstock.

  3. Anonymous says:

    First, I want to say “thank you, Laurie” for taking the time to take questions and answer them. I have found your first “Ask LRK” experiment to be extremely interesting and entertaining. Also, as I am currently in the process of re-reading all of Dorothy L. Sayers excellent books in chronological order, the questions and answers have been doubly relevant. I discovered Lord Peter through a dedication by Elizabeth Peters in one of her excellent books and, although it took me quite a while to appreciate the voice of DLS, I have grown to cherish her too-few mystery novels.

    Anyway, thank you again for taking the time to post this blog and answer our questions. I am looking forward to next month’s experiment!

    P.S. Bearded Iris, if you do decide to write a mystery about irises, I, for one, would love to read it. Those flowers are one of my favorites!

  4. Anonymous says:

    To the person wanting to read an iris mystery … Thanks! That gives me more incentive to write one. Nice to know I have at least one reader waiting. Iris Lady

  5. Anonymous says:

    Laurie …Your opening statement says: The essayist (or blogger) is sustained by the childish belief that everything she thinks about, everything that happens to her, is of general interest. Some people feel that it is presumptuous of a writer to assume that her little excursions or her small observations will interest the reader.

    I grew up with a mother who took so much interest in the minutiae of my life that I have grown into an adult who forgets to question whether or not others are equally interested. It is a dilemma, trying to be openly oneself without overburdening others with too much information. Your lines (above) brought a smile to my face. Mea culpa!

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