When I hear about writers worrying about writer’s block or having trouble getting started on their books, I always recall words I heard from best-selling romance author Nora Roberts at several writing conventions. When she was asked about how she manages to write every day, she had a very direct answer:
“It’s my job.”
As prolific as she is, it is obvious she knows she can’t afford to waste a day worrying about whether the words she is putting onto the page are just right. As I’ve also heard her and other writers say, you can’t edit what you haven’t written or fix a blank page, but you can always go back and change problems later.
Her comment really affected me. It has helped to keep me focused because it made me think of my old “day” job. As a TV journalist for 35 years I knew that every day when I got to work I was going to have to write. No, I wasn’t going to have to make up a fictional world, but since I started out as a newswriter, I knew I was going to have to compose stories—to write. It was as simple as Nora said—that was my job. I was expected to do it or I wouldn’t get paid.
Let me take you into the trenches for a quick look into the world of writing television newscasts. The anchor men and women you see on the air don’t write all their copy and in larger markets, many don’t write any of it. News writers and producers handle the bulk of the writing. And they have to do it from a variety of sources that might include scribbled reporter notes to press releases to having to call sources for information.
Every day I knew I was going to have to write a variety of stories – and often write them under an hourly deadline. I wouldn’t get to choose what I was going to write. It might be a traffic accident, it might be a shooting, it might be a story about a public meeting, it might be a newspaper story that I had to develop on my own.
There are times I can still recall the first time I sat down at a manual typewriter with a blank script page that was five pages thick, plus four pages of carbon paper. Number one I knew I was going to have to type hard because I needed to get the copy through all those pages, and number two I was going to have to try to make it as error free as possible because I didn’t want have to retype it over and over and I couldn’t turn in copy to anchors and reporters and expect them to read it with a bunch of XXXX’s on every line.
That’s right, in those days we didn’t have computers that spell checked and fixing a mistake was never as easy as a keystroke or two. And remember that deadline? I was writing for a 5PM newscast and they were going to break down the script starting at 4:30, so I had to have the story and several others done before then so they could be numbered and put into order.
Worried about mistakes, I decided to write it out in longhand before I started typing. Then as I started to scribble on a notepad the producer handed me a page of wire copy and told me to re-write that. And then another story came flying my way across the desk. Well, the idea of writing everything out in longhand went out the window. I knew I’d never be able to write out all those stories by hand first, but I might be able to do it first on a sheet of copy paper and edit it before committing it to that daunting six pages of script paper.
That was what I did. Unfortunately I was thinking like a fiction writer and wrote all these flowery lines. That first story came out terrible – I remember someone joking about it later. Luckily the anchor removed all my flowery prose before it went on the air. (I’ve known some anchors who might not do their own writing but they are wonderful editors.)
Somehow I made it through that first day and with the help of some very good mentors I was able to learn how to write and do it fast. One of my mentors was a gruff, but savvy news director who some co-workers claim was the model for TV’s Lou Grant. He outright laughed when he saw me typing my stories out before putting them onto the script paper. He taught me the importance of how to compose my thoughts, get the story down to the basics and get it onto the written page quickly—the actual script!
Another was a former writer at CBS News for Walter Cronkite and he showed me how to produce newscasts, which is the direction I eventually went, but I was still writing every single day. I was editing too. As a producer, part of my job was to edit those scripts from reporters and newswriters.
What they both taught me is just what Nora Roberts said. Sit down at the keyboard and write. Don’t worry about mistakes. Do it! Anything written can always be edited (like my first flowery script). So now, I am at my keyboard every day, unless I am taking a vacation or holiday – and even Nora says she schedules vacations and days off.
I keep a monthly log to see what I am accomplishing because that visual tool spurs me on and keeps me accountable. Even if I am worried I’ve hit a dead end in my story, I sit down and work. What I find is that once I have entered that story world, I get involved in it and before long the words are flowing again. And if they don’t start to flow the way I want, I know I can fix it later or let a critique partner or beta reader help me along—just like the anchors or producers used to edit my scripts.
So if you really want to be a writer, don’t make excuses about why you don’t have time to write. Or say you would write a book if you could come up with the right story or if your characters would just behave. If you are serious about it and want to get paid for it, then think of it as a job–your job. Don’t keep waiting for the muse to hit you.
Sit down and write.
Fix problems or edit later.
Next month my Savvy Core Class will focus on the writing process. If you want some writing tips, some hints about how to get your story flowing again, or an opportunity to just sit down at the keyboard and start cranking out some pages, I hope you’ll join me for the Let’s Write workshop.
Becky Martinez is an award winning former broadcast journalist who has worked in newsrooms from Denver to San Diego, to Las Vegas, Seattle and Los Angeles. Using her background in TV news, she writes romance, romantic suspense and mystery. Her latest book, Dead Man’s Rules, is available now from Amazon and The Wild Rose Press and will be released world-wide in May.