Yesterday, even though it was a perfect late summer day, I spent the golden afternoon indoors listening to a successful author read from her best-selling book and answer questions about her writing process. She was very articulate and interesting, but I left feeling a bit disappointed. Where was the advice that would help me achieve similar success? Where was the magic formula that would propel my writing to New York Times critical acclaim? What exactly is that elusive key to getting the writing right?
Actually, she did mention the key, and the formula is simple. I've heard it before from almost every author I've ever heard speak. The one message they all have in common is: sit down and write. Then rewrite. Then rewrite more until it's good.
There just doesn't seem to be any way around the sad fact that this business of writing takes a hell of a lot of time. There are no easy paths, there are no short cuts, and when you are finally finished, there certainly are no guarantees that anyone will give a damn.
I have been reading Selina Hastings' excellent biography of Somerset Maugham. Author of dozens of short stories, plays, and novels, Maugham is one of my writing super-heroes. "Mr. Know-It-All" is a wickedly amusing little tale, and Of Human Bondage is a recognized classic. But even Maugham had a rough start. Like all the rest of us, he struggled to get published. He was broke and forced to fake his way through expensive social events before he achieved recognition for his work. Even after financial success, he had to endure vicious criticism, not only for his work but for his life-style.
As Christopher Vogler points out in The Writer's Journey, we all travel our own writing paths, encountering heroes, guides, adversaries, allies, and shapeshifters along the way, but no where does he mention anything about shortcuts.