Crypts and Monoliths


I’m not going to tell you how to reach writing success. I’m not a guru. I’ve dug through the crypts of failed writers and stared up at the monoliths of the wildly successful. I’ve heard the words of the prophets who tell me how to write, what to write, how to speak, and who to speak to. I’ve listened to their sermons. I’ve lived by them, and I can say that I have never found success. The only thing I can say to you is this: go into the desert. Eat locust and honey for awhile and discover your own truths. Every artist has to find his or her own way. This is how I’m finding mine.

Every artist comes to success differently. For me, it’s the work. It’s all about the work. The only way to find your voice is to work. If your first book isn’t selling, write your second. The first isn’t going anywhere. It will be there when you’re done, and when you have written the second, the first can improve. Bob Mayer, in his book The Novel Writer’s Tool Kit, said the best way to learn how to write a book is to write ten.

In Stephen King’s book On Writing, I read many helpful things. But no one thing influenced me more than his workday. The man writes 2,000 words a day every day that he is working on a book. I was serious about my work, and not afraid of the job. So I said the most ridiculous words I have ever said, “If he can do it, so can I.”

In the beginning, I knew nothing. I couldn’t type, could not work a keyboard. I would hand write ten pages of legal pad, then sit down and type it all out. The handwriting took hours. The typing took more hours. When I was done, I had eight pages, and I kept going. The hours got shorter after the first book. By the third, with a little help from online gaming, where I had to type fast, I was up to a pretty good clip.

About 60 pages into my first epic fantasy, I sat down to type and was done an hour later. Not enough of a workday, I thought, so I went up to 3,000.

You learn a lot of things as you are writing the volume I have written. Typing is one of them, story, settings, the language and the dialogue, but none more important than this: work.

Work every day you can. Don’t let life get in the way. It is always in the way. Work anyway. Set a quota and meet it, no matter what that means. I have had to sit for hours before, have missed out on parties and get-togethers. I have stayed up writing until six in the morning and worked with the flu, back pain, and hand cramps. But I get my words in.

I no longer believe in writer’s block and you shouldn’t either. It is a myth created by writers who are frustrated and in a rut. Don’t let these kinds of excuses be handed down from Olympus. Don’t believe the Pegasus and the Mirror Shield of the writing world. There is one truth when it comes to writing, when it comes to any art form. If you show up, if you are brave enough to write crap for a while, to push through the rut, then inspiration will be handed down from above.

Work. There is no other path for me. The desert taught me that. While you’re stumbling through the sand, with your pants tied on your head for any kind of shade at all, you find out the only way through is to keep walking. Keep typing.

Work when you hate it, because at the end of the day, it is a job. It is a task you love and hate. It eats your time. It breaks your mind. It is the most beautiful thing you will ever do with your life and the most terrible. It is the slave girl who serves you and the master with the whip. It is hateful and it is encouraging.

Art is not easy. People who tell you there are rules to getting published are trying to help you for sure, but they see their success as the only right way. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, improving your quality can only aid you. Keep working. You’ll get better. In my eyes, the only true way to get there is work.

Don’t be afraid. Working on this kind of thing is terrifying. Writing a book is one of the most intimate things you can do with your life. Don’t back down from it because it is hard. Don’t back down from it because it is monumental.

Pick a quota. Teach yourself how to type. Tie your pants to your head and keep walking. You will get there. Just don’t give up.


2 thoughts on “Crypts and Monoliths

  1. Great advice. Writer’s block makes a great excuse, but a muse is not going to drop from the heavens with a breakthrough. Work is the cure. You are a wise man, Jesse Teller.

    1. Thank you Judith. I heard a quote from some one smarter than me say that the muse will always show up but she better catch you working. I truly believe the work will deliver the writer from all of the angst of the trade. Work purifies the soul. Work defines us. An artist without work is an enthusiast.

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