by | Sep 21, 2016 | Gayle Lynds, The Writer's Life | 6 comments

Me in my book-filled Santa Barbara office.

By Gayle Lynds.  Years ago a brain surgeon whom I met at a party told me in all seriousness that when he retired he was going to be a novelist.  My reply?  “When I retire, I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”  Oh, dear.  Did I really say that?

As it turns out, I have a long-time friend who’s a brain surgeon and who also writes engrossing medical thrillers.  When he finished his latest, he said to me, “I’d rather operate on brains.  Writing books is too damn hard.”  But still he does it.  Why?  He laughs:  “I think I should have my head examined.”

With this blog, I begin the next series of Rogue Women posts – “Writing Tips.”  You won’t want to miss these insightful stories.  To get your personal subscription to our blog, just click here.  

We’re a peculiar breed, we writers.  We work alone.  We dream day and night.  We come to it in our youth — or perhaps not until our old age.  Unlike NFL players, we can have careers that stop only when we die — and maybe not even then if we end up being a Robert Ludlum or a Tom Clancy.

There’s a joke in our trade: “If writing novels were easy, everyone would do it.”  That’s how we remind ourselves that the work is not only a great deal of fun and challenging, it’s also relentless.  If we’re to be good at it, we never stop teaching ourselves.  But then, that’s part of the joy.  My friend who is both a surgeon and a novelist has spent his life studying and working at both, switching back and forth between periods when he writes, and those in which he’s in the hospital operating.

I like to comfort beginning novelists with a couple of statistics: On the average, from the time a person commits himself or herself to becoming good enough to be traditionally published — figure ten years.  On the average, a writer writes four full-length novels before one is finally good enough to be traditionally published.  More brain surgeons in this country make a living than do novelists.

Are you depressed?  Don’t be.  As a beginner, I was relieved to know the hill was long and challenging.  The reason was that as I was growing up, I’d believed the books and movies that told us that all you had to do was write a book and it’d automatically be published and you’d be rich, famous, and have a long career ahead of you.  But then, we’re a highly literate society (thank goodness), and that sometimes makes us believe that if we can read books, we ought to be able to write them.  The truth is, that’s mostly true — but it also takes a lot of talent and work.

If you’re thinking about writing, or perhaps you’ve already started to write stories, keep going.  You don’t have to publish.  You’re also entitled to the joy and satisfaction of writing simply for yourself or for your family and friends.  If you write, you’re a writer.

But if you want to be published, here are two tips:

  Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten.
  Writing is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.

So go out there and sweat!  And when you pause, please drop by my website and say hello!

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  1. S. Lee Manning

    It is both heartening and disheartening to realize just how much work goes into writing a good novel. Disheartening – when you're in the middle and worried that you'll never finish and what you're working on is no damn good. Heartening – when you realize that the best writers have been exactly where you are now and that if you stick to it and really work – you can bring forth something fabulous. Great post, Gayle.

  2. Karna Bodman

    Oh Gayle, you are absolutely right on! The idea that it can take some ten years of writing and rewriting to get to the point of having a finished product that would interest the publishing industry has been my experience as well. I recall the former President of our great organization, International Thriller Writers, Steve Berry saying that he had been writing for something like 20 years, published for 10….he also has told aspiring writers that he had 85 rejections from various agents and editors before he finally snagged a publishing deal…. and now he is a "New York Times Bestselling Author."{ So yes, it's a tough business (and it IS a business) — but hard work and perseverance are the hallmarks of our great authors today. Thanks so much for posting.

  3. Gayle Lynds

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the post, Sandy and Karna. We're just a bunch of book lovers who want to create what we love — and lucky to be able to do so!

  4. Jamie Freveletti

    I agree with everyone above-both heartening and disheartening! But in my own writing career I found these statistics to be generally true. I have one full manuscript "on the shelf" and wrote for about eight years before I landed a book deal. So, to those out there, keep going! Great post.

  5. KJ Howe

    Gayle, what a spectacular start to this next topic, one close to my heart. i studied writing for a long time in great depth before being lucky enough to be traditionally published, and it was worth every effort. Love your positive attitude. You're an inspiration.

  6. Gayle Lynds

    Thanks, Jamie & KJ. Isn't it just crazy? But truly, we love it. No one else would put up with it. To be able to create the kinds of books we love to read is a gift from heaven. 🙂