How I learned to write

Today’s guest post comes from Robert C. Deming, an indie author who writes modern cowboy stories about honest, hard-working, independent, courageous good guys. His first two novels (both mysteries in an on-going series) are set in the beautiful Enchanted Rock State Park in his home state of Texas. We hope you enjoy this post and will make him feel welcome. 

I minored in English in college instead of French because I was something of a slacker; I knew I wouldn’t get past French – Advanced Grammar and Composition, and, anyway, my roommates were all engineers, who make anyone feel like a slacker.  I became a military pilot, a good career for a slacker, and spent a great deal of time waiting beside a big jet for WWIII.  Lots of the guys entertained themselves during those slack times (the Cold War – we won that one!) with “Economics Class,” an all-night poker game. Not me, I read.  We had a great paperback library in the alert facility.  I read Ernest Hemmingway, Edward Abbey, John LeCarre, Robert Heinlein, James Michener.  I was twenty-two years old, and I flew jets around the world, and I wanted to write – but I had no idea what to write about. I had no story in me.

Thirty years later, I took my first creative writing course.  The teacher, a diminutive German immigrant with a sharp eye, a survivor of World War Two, and the Russians, and the partition of Berlin, and the Wall, began with, “Think of an interesting character.”  She gave us a minute to ponder that and said “Now, write a paragraph about that interesting character.”  Half the class got up, left, and asked for their money back.  That’s when I realized there is a lot more angst in not writing than actually writing.  I wrote my paragraph and read it to the survivors, and kept coming back. That first paragrah turned into an unmanageable short story, followed by another, and another.  I took all seven of the ten week classes she offered, and the more I wrote, the better my stories got.

One of my (published!) writer friends told me that her characters told her the story.  I thought she was nuts.  She is, as it turns out, but just a little bit, and no more than I.  One day, while driving my car, an image popped into my head: I was in the back seat of a T-38 jet trainer again, upside down at 20,000 feet, at the top of a loop, with a solo student 500 feet behind me.  I had spent a lot of time in that seat as an instructor pilot, and I knew that place.  When I got home, I put that on paper, and before long I had a chapter.  I had no idea whatsoever what the story was, I just knew that it was about a twenty-five year old T-38 instructor pilot named Tom.  The story came to me one scene at a time, but come it did.  The story POPS, and I will publish Awol 21 later this year.

The most fundamental concept in writing fiction is this – stories are about people.  Stories are character-driven.  Put an interesting character in an interesting place and the story will come.  I have written two more novels now, Enchanted Rock Red and Enchanted Rock Blue(s), and I have a start on Enchanted Rock White(tail) and Fort Davis Rocks.  So far, I have had no idea what the story was when I started, and haven’t been completely sure until I finished.  A year and some ago I was at my kitchen table writing Red while my wife was fixing supper, with teenager chaos all around me.  My Texas Ranger character was talking to a group of peace officers in the story.  When I finished writing that scene, I pushed back from my laptop and said, “Where the heck did that come from?”  This happened over and over.  Two characters even inserted themselves into the story without my permission!  (Maybe I’m the one who is nuts?)  So, here’s my advice:

Forget everything you have read or been told about how to write a story.   You can worry with that later. Think of an interesting character, and write a short paragraph about that interesting character.  You don’t need a week of vacation, or even an hour; or to have your laptop; or to have your pencils all sharpened and lined up on your desk.  Even if you are standing on a commuter bus just one stop away, but you know who that character is, and all you have to write on is the back of an envelope from an overdue bill in your pocket, and a cheap pen from Joe’s Tires on it, scratch it down!  You will get off the bus with a smirk on your face, because, by God, you’re a writer, and you have a story to tell!

Robert Deming is a Texan who aspires to be a national best-selling author.  Samples of his wit can be found on www.robertcdeming.me.  The two aforementioned novels are for sale on Amazon and Kindle.

29 thoughts on “How I learned to write

  1. Pingback: How I learned to write « robertcdeming

  2. Terrific post Robert! You always have interesting things to say and like you, a bit of a late bloomer. Stories are about people, and our characters are as alive in our heads and hearts as anyone we meet in “real” life! They are independent and for some (not all) writers, it takes time to listen to their stories, in bits and pieces. Writing a short paragraph is how it starts and it can happen anywhere, anytime.
    Loved hearing how you got started! Good luck with your book(s)!

  3. Loved reading this. Thank you. And it’s true: Stories are about people. I find the stories that really get inside a character’s head and heart are the ones that keep a reader’s attention. I think I realised this when I read John Marsden’s Tomorrow Series. Brilliant.
    Cheers!

  4. I enjoyed reading your post. I’m currently re-reading my much-loved collection of Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion stories. No matter how many times I read those books, I always immerse myself in Pak’s world. The plot’s important, but I only come back for the repeats because the characters and the world they inhabit are so well observed.

  5. I have re-read some of my favorite stories since I started writing, looking for the ways in which the writer engaged me so well. Now, with perspective from my own writing, I realize it’s the characters.

  6. Robert, thank you so much for the story of your stories! I think that the hesitation we all get bound up in is such a pervasive demon. “Back in the day” if one wanted to be an author, he sat down with a pen and a stack of paper and “authored.” Nowadays, I think too many great stories are being unwritten because we “authors” worry about credentials or form first. I am always reminding myself to let go and let the story out. The puncuation, spelling and tense can wait. The pulse of the moment can not, nor should it wait. Characters dont bother to behave, writers shouldnt wait to be perfect!

    • When that happens to me, and here’s where I really “out” myself as a nut, I think….I should really call Anita (insert name of the first one of your chatacters who pops into your head) and see how she’s been. I haven’t been good about being supportive lately. I miss her, maybe I can invite her to lunch…
      Most times that stirs up some good stuff. But sometimes ya just gotta keep simmering 🙂

      • Well, yes and no. I’ve written so much, but it’s all very disorganized. At this point, I’m not sure whether to edit what I already have and keep going, or to scrap it all and start over completely.

        Interesting characters I have in SPADES. It’s organization and the will to edit that I seem to be lacking..

  7. Great post! I’ve written several true stories and I’m even in the process of finishing a book on breast cancer. It includes 29 stories plus my own. I’ve been afraid to try characters that I imagine. I’ll try that as soon as I finish what I’ve got started. Thanks for the input!

    • My writing group includes several doctors who write medical stories; they fictionalize the characters in stories of actual patients to satisfy privacy requirements. In your case, the book might have more impact if they were true stories used with permission. You might have a fictional character who guides the reader through the entire story, tying the many individual stories together. Good job!

  8. Reblogged this on Simple! and commented:
    Writing – I frustrate myself with it. The stories come to me from time to time, but bring them to a statisfactory conclusion has been difficult. Robert C. Deming’s gives us a great starting point for stories. It’s worth time to read and meditate upon.

  9. What instructions!It seems very simple to write after reading your story.It was very heartwarming for a person like me who struggle to write something productive. Thanks for the advice.

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