What is a Writer?
By, Dr. Bob Rich
A writer is not just a person who writes. Almost anybody can write, which is why publishers are drowning in a flood of manuscripts that no one wants to read.
But a writer must write. I can no more give up writing than I can do without breathing. It is something I do all the time.
Working at one of my many jobs, talking with a friend, whatever I am doing, I am also observing life and translating it into words. I look at the expression on a face, the movement of a hand, a flower, the scenery, on joy and suffering and squalor and magnificence, and all of it is stored away, to emerge some time later. Everything is ammunition for the machine gun of my imagination. It will become part of some work or another, perhaps a long time later, transformed and hidden and combined with other experiences.
Sometimes, a publisher has rejected a work I'd submitted, or a critic has been unkind. I feel that a child of my spirit has been trampled, and get depressed. I think, What's the use? I might as well be sane like everyone else and watch TV or something.
At times like this, I need some solace. And what do I do to survive?
The inside of my mind has been like this, for as long as I can remember, but I didn't know that I was a writer. My passion as a youngster was distance running, and as I covered the many long miles, I passed the weary minutes and even hours by making up endless monologues. I never thought to share these with anyone else--for Heaven's sake, who'd be interested in my thoughts? But unknowingly, I was a grub feeding on the juicy green leaves of experience.
At school, and later at University, my quirky mind allowed me to excel, while at the same time it was impossible for me to fit into any system. I just felt different, and odd, and therefore inferior. I coped by trying harder than anyone else, and accumulating a long list of successes.
Did they make me feel better about myself? Of course not. So, I continued to strive, and to buck the system.
Later, my creativity found a happy temporary home in research. Not that I could keep to the customary formulas! My PhD project was so odd that I had to spend a year inventing a new method of statistical analysis, one that, as far as I know, has never been used by anyone else.
And then I realized we were wrecking the life support system of our planet. Unravel the web of life, and we fall through the hole.
This led to my career as a Mudsmith, and to a deliberately low-income, almost self-sufficient lifestyle, and to writing. Read my essay that explains this crazy idea.
Hemingway advised: "Write what you know about." At that time, I was building my house, and learned new skills every day. This was what I wrote about, mostly in an excellent magazine called Earth Garden. These “how to” articles were pedestrian, like the recipes in a cook book. But they struck a chord, and my ideas resonated with the thousands of people reading the magazine. So, one day I wrote a letter to the magazine's publisher, Keith Smith, suggesting that the two of us could co-author a book about building. He had posted a letter to me on the same day, with the same proposal!
The Earth Garden Building Book took us two years to write, maturing like good wine. It came out in 1987, and went through 4 editions. It has been reviewed as the “Australian owner-builder's bible,” and has been used as the main reference by tens of thousands of people as they built their houses.
My second book, Woodworking for Idiots Like Me, was more ambitious in a way, being a series of autobiographical short stories. Each story had a practical lesson and a recipe for doing some aspect of woodcraft. It also did very well, selling 60,000 copies over five years.
In the meantime, I continued my growth as a writer. My first win in a competition was in 1991, a third prize for the story, Peace for the Joker. Ever since then, I've had occasional bursts of short story writing, and each time won prizes and awards.
Gradually, I got more ambitious and tried to write novels. The first three were no more than learning exercises, but gradually I grew wings of many colors, and flapped them, and my ideas flew.
Early on, my preoccupation was with justice, fairness, power to the underdog, so that inspired my writing. For the past many years, it has switched to compassion, empathy, the power of unconditional love.
I hope that my words will give you pleasure, and open doors of understanding into worlds you haven't yet explored.
How Do You Write Page Turning Fiction?
I have invented this machine that turns pages, even if the reader is asleep. So, this is exactly in tune with our modern world where people need to get more and more efficient doing more and more to achieve less and less.
Unfortunately, people have let me know that they don’t get any use out of my page turner, because they stay awake while reading. If you look at the reviews of all my books, they are 4 or 5 stars, except for one from a wretched fellow who gave me a 3. Even he didn’t brag of having fallen asleep.
How to do that? The secret is that fiction is about emotion.
If a work of fiction is not about emotion, it’s not worth reading. Emotion IS fiction. When people pick up a novel or a short story, it’s because they want to be entertained. This means, they want to be temporarily taken out of the reality of their lives, to escape its tensions and stresses, or its boredom and meaninglessness. They want to have a holiday in the reality the author has created.
You won’t get such a holiday in an intellectual exercise. If that’s your aim, you’ll play a game, or read nonfiction.
Reading about the lives of my characters needs to induce people to feel emotions appropriate to the situation in the story. I need to portray the children of my imagination in a way to make that possible. And how on earth can I do that, unless I feel the emotions myself?
There is a guided imagery exercise I recommend to some of my editing clients. Get completely relaxed. Then imagine being the character whose point of view you are using to convey a scene. BE that person, in that situation. If you were to look in a mirror (which is hard to do when you’ve got your eyes closed), you’d see your character, not yourself.
Now, feel what it is like to live in that body. I am bald, but my teenage hero has longish, straight hair. I can feel that hair tickling my ears, covering my forehead. I am a male, but the girl who is the witness to the current scene has rather big breasts. I HAVE them and need to adjust my back to take the weight. I am sitting quietly with my eyes closed, but the witness of my story is running hard, in pouring rain. I feel my pounding footsteps repeatedly sinking into soft ground, feel the rain lashing my face, my soggy clothes weighing me down…
Next, I need to deal with the situation facing my character. And if it’s worth including in a story, it’s a situation that advances the plot in some way. That is, it needs to involve emotion. So, being the character, I feel the emotion.
Then I can open my eyes, and my fingers will fly on the keyboard.
Personally, I don’t need to carry out such a formal exercise. I’ve been at it long enough that I can look at a blank screen, and know that I next need to write about a 19 year old girl in Victorian times whose fiancé has just attempted to rape her. This is an extract from Guardian Angel. Have I managed to capture the emotion?
Excerpt from Guardian Angel
Kirsten sprinted through the grass, raising her dress with one hand, while screaming with all her might, her singing-trained lungs making a sound she hoped would carry all the way home. Between breaths, she heard Luke’s pounding steps behind, but then clearly he thought better of it. She risked a backward glance to see him move away toward the trees.
She was safe, for now.
Panting, a slight stitch in her side, she slowed to a walk, but still hurried home, feeling incredibly tired with the release of tension. But now, there was Father...
The day had started so well. Kirsten was happily practicing her violin when the door flew open, and her friend Susannah barged in. She shouted over the music, “The mushrooms are out!” She waved a cane basket around. “Come, it’s pleasant outside.”
Kirsten put the instrument on its rest, and the bow onto the music stand. “You are a nuisance,” she said, but smiling. “I need to practice for church next Sunday, because the Reverend Mr. Taylor told me at yesterday’s service that he wishes to introduce a new piece by Handel. We’ve transcribed if for solo violin. It’s complex enough to need a month of practice, and I have a week.”
“Oh, all this high-faluting stuff! You know you always excel with your music. The sun is shining now, the mushrooms await us, and both our cooks will be delighted.”
Looking down on top of her friend’s dark head, Kirsten smiled, put on her bonnet and scarf, and followed Susannah out. They passed Mother, sitting at her loom, who said, “Do return for luncheon!”
“Yes, Mother. I expect to be an hour.” She fetched a basket of her own from the kitchen.
Indeed, the sun shone outside, taking the chill of early spring off the air, but soon they were in the cool shade of the not-quite forest that formed the boundary between the two families’ properties. They rapidly filled their baskets with mushrooms, to Susannah’s constant chatter, as she skipped from topic to topic.
“Shush a moment,” Kirsten interrupted. “Did you hear something behind us?”
They looked and listened. “What kind of sound?” Susannah whispered.
“As if someone trod on a twig or something.”
But if there had been a sound, it certainly didn’t repeat, and they continued until their baskets were overflowing. Then each turned for home.
Kirsten almost reached the edge of the trees when something stirred ahead, and then a gloating face looked at her as the person she hated the most blocked her path.
“Luke. You’ve been stalking us, haven't you?”
“My love! My bride-to-be!” he mocked.
“I’d rather turn papist and be a nun!”
“What a waste that would be. No, you shall do as your father desires, like a good, obedient girl.”
“I will never marry you! I will not!”
“You’ll soon learn not to be so defiant!” He stepped toward her, threateningly.
Fear clenched her insides as she saw the viciousness in his eyes, but she made sure to show none of it. “That’s precisely why you’re the last male I’d ever marry. I have no desire to be a punching bag.”
“All so fancy! You should never have been sent to be spoiled in that school. You don’t need all that education to breed my sons!” He stepped closer again.
She had to do something. As his big paws reached for her, she shoved the basket full of mushrooms into his face, and swung her left hand hard, fingers bent. She felt her nails rake his cheek as she sprinted past him, lifting her dress up with one hand.
Thank the good Lord, she had escaped, this time.
“Were you screaming?” Mother demanded as she burst in. “And where is your basket?”
“I was attacked, Mother. Oh...” She couldn’t help it, Kirsten started sobbing, tears cascading down her face, chest heaving.
“You’re a lady. Take a deep, slow breath. Now.” Indeed, Kirsten managed to gain a little self-control. “Who was it?”
“Luke. He threatened me, and would have mauled me but I threw the mushrooms at him and scratched his face.”
Mother looked shocked. “That’s very... unwise to do to your fiancé. When you are his--”
Kirsten shouted, “Mother, I will not marry him!”
Mother looked around in instant fear. “Shush! Someone may hear and tell your father.”
Again, Kirsten took a deep breath, to gain time to think. “Mother, he is violent. He’d have... have violated me if I hadn’t resisted.”
“Surely not! He is gently bred.”
“He is very good at acting the gentleman, but I know him. Ever since I was six years old and he seven, every time I was home from school he bullied me dreadfully. And when my bosom started to develop, this... er, involved my femininity. And like many times before, today he threatened me with what would happen when he owns me, as he thinks is certain.”
“Your father is very keen to complete the joining of the two families.”
“Don’t I know it? Haven’t I heard it a million times, both from him and from Mr. Mogden? But Emil and Meredith are married, and so are Sebastian and Joan. Isn’t that enough?”
Mother again looked around furtively, obviously terrified of having the conversation overheard. “You know Kapten Petersen will not be contradicted.”
“Please. I. Will. Not. Marry. That. Violent. Savage.” Kirsten whirled, and retired to her room where she could cry her heart out in private.
Amazon UK Storyteller Contest
Dr Bob Rich intends to win the Amazon UK Storyteller contest with his brand new novel, “Guardian Angel.” The first step is to get lots of sales and reviews, so he has reduced the price to 75 cents.
Check his website for more details, then click the book cover below to buy a Kindle version. Paperback is still coming.
About the Author
Dr. Bob Rich is an Australian storyteller with 16.5 published books plus some freebies. Five books have won awards.
He has retired from five different occupations, but is still a writer, editor, environmental activist, and professional grandfather.
Everything he does, works toward a sustainable society, and one worth surviving in.
All readers have the opportunity to enter the author's book giveaway by commenting below. Dr. Bob Rich is offering two e-book copies each of Ascending Spiral and of Hit and Run. Please feel free to comment below and be sure to include your email if you'd like to enter the book giveaway.
A special thank you to Dr. Bob Rich for guesting at Pandora's Box Gazette today. He will be interviewed here on June 15th. Hope to see you all back here for that interview.