Saturday, April 30, 2011

So you think you want to write a book?

A couple of years ago, I got the strange idea that it might be fun to write a book. Everyone does it, so why not me? It couldn't be that hard could it?

My inspiration came from having been invited to speak to a group of writers, artists, songwriters, and others at a workshop held at Aspen Grove in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains of Utah. Apparently this group, had the tradition of inviting an unsuspecting individual from outside their specialty fields to speak to them during their workshop. Geology, which is my specialty, undoubtedly sounded about as far afield as you could get. And, although it's hard on my ego, the real reason I received the invitation is that my wife just happens to be good friends with the wife of the organizer of the workshop.

So, there I was, trying my best to pretend to be artistic and musical and creative. For a guy who thinks that a good time is when you get to spend two hours trenching a hillside to look for a two-inch, 170 million-year-old, volcanic ash bed, this was a different experience. I'll admit it was fun to rub shoulders with some really interesting people and act like I knew what they were talking about, but I knew I wasn't one of them. I hadn't created anything artistic. In fact, my last experience with art was in Junior High School.

When I was a kid everyone had to take art in Junior High. I was confident that art would not be any more of a challenge than any of my other subjects. Science, social studies, history, English, German, even choir, were easy. I was getting A's in all of them. Art was different. I only just muddled through the first few assignments. My grade was not going to be an A unless I finished the class off in a spectacular way.

Fortunately, we had a final project and after thinking about it for some time, I decided that I would make an artistic candle. It would be so impressive that my teacher would ignore all the other mediocre work and give me an A. I am sure that I must have put all of my 12-year-old heart and soul into the project. It was white and big. Big was always impressive, and white was easier than trying to mess with colored wax. I melted up several blocks of kitchen wax and poured them into an empty milk box. When it had cooled, I ripped off the box to reveal a tall, square tower of wax. I was probably getting chills just thinking of what the final candle would look like. But it did need something more. So, I whipped up some frosting and covered the whole thing with white foam. To finish it off I added silver glitter, a few red hots, a couple sprigs of fake holly and stuck a stiff piece of twine into the top as a wick.

It was a thing of beauty. There was no doubt in my mind that this was an A project. My mother, who loved to paint with oils, smiled and sent me off to school, proudly carrying the finished project. Even to this day, I can't believe that my monster candle barely earned a C-. It was much better than all the sketches and carvings and things that the other kids brought. Besides being functional, if you didn't mind a little silver glitter, you could still eat the icing.

Well, you get the idea. My art skills were, and still are, pretty sub-par. But writing now, that was something I thought I could do. I actually had co-authored a book and written chapters in other books. True, they were not the kind of books anyone would sit down to read for quiet relaxation, but they were still books. And, the final thing that pushed me to try and write a 'novel' was that at the workshop I met Stephenie Meyer, James Dashner, Shannon Hale, and a bunch of other published authors. They all seemed like pretty regular people. I was regular people! As regular as they get (that is as long as we aren't talking about intestinal regularity).

After the workshop, I set my course. First I attended a couple of writing workshops. They were fun, and I met a ton of other published authors. But...I also discovered that novels didn't just flow easily out of the pen. It might take me more than a few weeks to crank out that blockbuster. I did meet up with some other aspiring authors and we formed a 'writing group.' Initially we had about fifteen, but now at our monthly meetings we are lucky to have three or four of us. Still, undaunted we plow ahead.

I've started five or six novels. I even made it all the way through one of them and gave it to my wife to read. After a couple of weeks, when she hadn't returned it and did her best to pretend that I had never given her a book, I realized that it was my art project all over again. I could see it's brilliance, but probably no one else would.

Still, I'm determined to write. I've just revised Chapter 1 for the one hundredth time and now maybe I can move on to Chapter 2. I'll keep you posted.