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Smell the Coffee: No shortcuts to literary fame

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the most frustrating things about people knowing you're a writer is when a greeting card gets shoved in front of you and you're expected to write something clever. There's no "best wishes" or simple "I'll miss you" allowed. The person carrying the card will usually hover, waiting to see what witty words you'll write.

My hands will start to sweat. I'll get dizzy.

In desperation, I'll scrawl something that's deliberately unreadable, draw a little cartoon, and then sign my name, hoping those who read it will think it's an inside joke and the recipient will just think they can't read my writing.

Truth is, I've found there's nothing easy about being a writer. It's both my greatest love and my biggest frustration. From grade school forward, it's all I've ever wanted to do. I spend much time working at it, trying to improve, so it frustrates me when, every now and then, you hear of someone who sneaks in the back door.

A Charleston woman told me how she was doing everything writers are supposed to do -- taking classes and reading books, honing her skills, writing and rewriting and tightening her prose. She even belonged to a weekly critique group. While she was doing all that, her husband quietly handwrote a book of his own in a spiral notebook and mailed off his only copy directly to a publisher.

And damned if he didn't land a contract.

He sneaked in through the back door. While part of me celebrates, a bigger part knows that it's the rare success stories like his that feed those determined to cut line themselves. To hell with the rules! If he can do it, they can too!

The world is full of wannabe writers. So often, I'll be approached by someone who will say something like, "I lost my job and I'm thinking about writing a book, get some quick money." They'll want a few pointers on how to land a mega agent or get on Oprah's book list, even though they have not yet written a word.

Or they'll say they just know their idea would be the next Harry Potter but they don't have time to write it, so they'll want to tell the basic idea and split all the money the book is sure to get once someone else does the easy part of, y'know, writing the whole thing. Because the idea is all that matters. Not how it's written.

There are so many who claim they want to be writers, when in reality, what they want is to have written. They want to pop their nugget of an idea into the story microwave, press a couple buttons and have a fully cooked novel emerge, ready for its place on the best-sellers list.

The truth of it is, what they want to do is cut line. They don't want to pay their dues or follow the rules. That isn't fair. It's like trying to harvest what someone else planted.

This past year has been rough. My writing has been shoved to the side and the quality of what I've written has suffered. I've struggled to keep at it, though, and am proud that I have. Even if I haven't been happy with much of what I've produced, I've kept plodding, knowing that sooner or later, the sparks will once again start to ignite.  

There aren't any shortcuts to the places that are most worth going. If there were, those shortcuts could cause you to miss the best parts of the journey. The parts that make for a richer story.

And the parts that make the one who has struggled so hard to tell it feel proud.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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