Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The Writer's Intuition
I probably could never have been a doctor, and if, somehow, I had made it into that position, I most likely would have done a lousy job of it. Although I have a rational, logical mind, it doesn’t wrap itself around the details of science particularly well, and spending every day with complaining sick people is not my idea of a good time.
If I’d gone into that line of work, I would have been the doctor who threw it up at the age of 40 and bought a vineyard.
On the other hand, I most likely would have made a good lawyer had I pursued that career. My logical mind applies itself to legal problems far more readily than it does to medical problems, and the courtroom holds far more instinctive appeal for me than the operating room.
Actually, knowing how journalism turned out, there’s a part of me that wishes from time to time that I had gone into law.
Oh No, You Can’t
One of the most pernicious mantras of our time — one that will be spoken at many a commencement ceremony over the next several weeks — is, “You can be anything you want to be.” Horse hockey. Not one person in a hundred will ever acquire the political skills or the desire to get elected dog catcher, never mind President of the United States.
A more accurate appraisal would be, “If you find a pursuit that your intellect, temperament and talent suit you for; and if you work at that pursuit for a considerable length of time, until you sharpen your skills to the point where they become intuitive, you can, with a bit of luck, be successful in that endeavor.”
The trick is knowing yourself somewhat realistically. Don’t we all remember kids in high school who thought they were going to be professional ball players when they could barely play catch? Or who wanted to be movie stars when they had no expressive ability whatsoever?
So You Want to Write a Book
Amazon has now made it possible for anyone who has written a book to put it out in front of the world. This has allowed a few people who have written good books to self-publish them. It has allowed far more people who have written terrible books to embarrass themselves in front of a worldwide audience. I’ve published two mystery novels this way myself and am not entirely sure which class I belong in.
I do know that writing a mystery isn’t easy. Almost anyone who succeeds at it will have read hundreds of mysteries to absorb how it’s done; will have been developing his or her writing skills over the years; and will have developed the writer’s mentality that sees the world, always, as material to be mined for fiction.
Without the mentality, and without the intuitive understanding of writing that comes from having done it a lot, almost no one is going to come up with anything passable, no matter how many creative writing classes they take. My old managing editor Ward Bushee used to say, “You can’t teach judgment. A person either has it or they don’t, and the best you can do is help develop it a bit in someone who already has it.”
The same could be said of writing.