I Didn’t Always Want To Be a Writer
In my day to day contacts with writers all over the world, I can’t tell you how many times I heard folks say things like, “I’ve been writing stories since I was six years old.” or “I wrote my first novel when I was just seventeen.” or “I wanted to be an author ever since I read Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in high school.” While I wish that I had started stringing words together when I was six, sixteen, twenty-six or even thirty-six, I can’t honestly say that I did. I was a late bloomer.
By the time I was in my mid forties I had been reading for quite some time, and there were fleeting moments when I entertained thoughts of writing something. But I always nixed the idea, thinking I was too busy living life to bother to sit down and write about it.
Nevertheless, I thought it would be something else to be able to live like Ernest Hemingway—write in the mornings, fish my afternoons away, and party every night with a bunch of famous and infamous friends. Yes, I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t want to pay the piper. I wasn’t ready to stand for hours and hand write stories on lined yellow pads like ole Hem did. I wasn’t ready to sit on my tail and do it either. But I sure dreamed about getting the fame and respect that accomplished authors so often do. Then one day I woke up.
After ten or so years of never having less than six books lying in wait, alongside my recliner, I finally thought, Oh hell, I can do this writing thing! I can do it better than most of these guys and girls I’ve read. Shoot, three quarters of the books I start I never finish. I know I can do better. How hard can it be to describe a green hill in Africa, or a southern plantation gone kaput in Georgia? Ha…lemme go get a pad. I’ll whip something up right now.
Oh boy…was I wrong!
I went and got a spiral notebook, plopped right back in my easy chair, and thought I was about to begin my great American novel. What did I accomplish that first sitting?--nada--as in not a damn thing. I had no idea where to begin. My second try was just as fruitless. So were the next, and the next, and every other attempt I made for two solid years. If I wasn’t out fishing, working, running around somewhere, or reading, I’d be in that soft mauve chair agonizing over what a flunky I was with a pen.
I was living on Florida’s Gulf Coast at that time but one day, after moving across the state to the east coast, I found myself on a quiet beach with that empty notebook again. I thought that maybe, if I took a folding chair with me and sat on the beach, I might finally get something down on paper. And I did. I don’t remember how much I wrote that day, but I did begin my first novel. Why was I finally able to come up with something halfway decent? Did my muse float in on a wave along with all the brown seaweed on that beach? Had my inspiration surfaced ten miles out in the Gulfstream and blown in on the easterly wind? I don’t think so.
I think what happened is that I finally had a worthwhile story worked out in my mind. I had a beginning—a middle—and an end. That’s all I’d needed all along. Well, almost all I needed. The rough plot I had in my head certainly gave me confidence but so did something else. I did exactly what Ernest Hemingway, time and time again, told aspiring writers. He used to say, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” And I did.
While beginning a new novel still isn’t easy for me (none of the writing process is), there aren’t many things in this mad, maddening world I’d rather do. I can’t think of anything that’s as rewarding as a productive morning at the keyboard. And I’m awfully glad that I learned what writing one true sentence can lead to.
In the last two years I’ve had three novels published. I’ve had two different publishers but parted ways with both of them. Now all my books are self-pubbed and will continue to be--until the “big six” publishers have a bidding war over them. Ha! Talk about a classic example of a writer’s imagination running wild!
All kidding aside, I must say that my novels have had some small successes.
My first two books, Beyond Nostalgia and The Last American Martyr (before publication) where both finalists for Random House’s YouWriteOn “Book of the Year.” Since publication, both books have been Amazon (multi-category) Bestsellers--four times each. My third book, Four Days with Hemingway’s Ghost, came out last summer. It too has been a bestseller, twice. Two weeks ago my most recent work came out on Amazon—a novella entitled Within a Man’s Heart, I have high hopes for it as well.
But despite all that, the biggest rewards I’ve gotten for my efforts have been the reviews and emails I’ve received from readers. Many of them have been nothing short of stunning. And they, more than anything, are what keep my literary hopes alive.
Links to Tom’s Books