An Email About Writing, and a Reply

A friend sent me an email recently asking some pertinent questions about writing.

Here is part of the email from Sharon.

- - - - - - -

Have you ever coached a fantasy writer? How silly do you consider this genre?
I have this dream to finish my story before I die and that’s not looking as good as it used to! Years go by really fast as it turns out.
What’s a good first step for this process? Or, do you have a series of essays on how to get off your butt and just write?

- - - - - - -

Those are good questions, and hard to answer questions. Here is my response.

- - - - - - -

I quite like fantasy.

My writing coaching has just been on the skill rather than on projects, so I've mostly played with tiny little stories that we make up at the time.

There is no correct process for writing, and no correct writing time frames. Patrick Rothfuss worked on his first book for 14 years before it came out. Stephen King took 30 years to finish the Dark Tower series. J. K. Rowling had all seven books planned in detail before she began the first. Her planning took 5 years by itself. C. S. Lewis just did it one book at a time. George R. R. Martin has a general idea of where he's going, but no detail.

Writing only requires writing. So it's whatever works for you. I only really make progress when I'm doing articles for the blog where I'm going to publicly post them soon. I just happen to like that. If you can block out a certain time to write, do that. If you can set a goal of writing a certain number of words a day, do that. None of that works for me, my conscientiousness scores are just too low to handle it. But, writing in little bursts of inspiration has worked for many people as well.

It's whatever gets you going. If you feel like writing detailed plans and that will get you putting things on paper or screen, then do that. If there's a scene you're excited about, then write that. Gabaldon writes her books completely out of order just based on what she feels like doing at the time, and then arranges the scenes later. Robert Louis Stevenson made a list of chapters and then wrote Treasure Island chapter by chapter, and read each to his family by the fire that same night. When he wrote Jekyll and Hyde his wife awoke him in the middle of an inspiring nightmare and he wrote it in three days. When she didn't like it he burnt it and rewrote the entire thing again, all while being on doctor prescribed bedrest.

As for fantasy being silly, it is no more silly than any other genre. A western can be silly or serious. Fantasies are communicating personal and collective archetypes, patterns of interpreting and acting within the world, just as all narratives are. The Emperor Has No Clothes is an important work detailing deception, self-deception, authority, social structures, the value of innocence, fraud, and more. The Chronicles of Narnia is a Protestant religious work, and The Lord of the Rings a Catholic one. Harry Potter has an almost unlimited number of important subjects, not the least of which is the exploration of the good and evil that divides us all within ourselves, how the evil within being incorporated into us protects us from the evil without, and how by dying unto self we may be reborn. So, fantasy is not so silly. It allows us to have fun while confronting subjects of the utmost importance, and maintaining enough distance to allow us a less reactive perspective on emotionally engaging topics.

Finally, writing does require a leap of faith. That's why it's an adventure in itself.

- - - - - - -

Letter writing is a lost art. But I like it. I'm reading the letters exchanged between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson right now, along with the letters between John Adams and Abigail Adams. They offer some of the best insights into history, and into people, that I know of. And, fictional letter writing as in Johan Wolfgang von Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther" and Ovid's "Heroides" give you a different feel than that of other literary works. (Technically that's its own field of study called epistolary writing.)

Emails are not letters. But sometimes they start to feel like that, and it feels good. Here is a slightly edited reply from Sharon.

- - - - - - -

Wow Jeff this is such a great email, you should post this to your blog as is!  It’s very motivating just reading about how other authors work. I usually imagine them as tirelessly holed up in book laden studies writing away for endless days.
I know it took Tolkien about 20 years to finish LOTR etc. and I often think maybe that is why it is so good.
The thing that has gotten me writing finally is that I just tell myself no one will ever see this...
Constructive criticism I take VERY well but someone saying “wow this is just a piece of garbage” I’d have a hard time with.
And everyone knows that “no filter” is sort of the new norm.
Thanks social media.
I guess I will just jump in and do whatever and see where it goes.
How are you enjoying isolation?
Feels pretty normal to me, I kind of live in a pumpkin anyway!
Have you written a book yet? Or mostly essays?

- - - - - - -

She has a lot of good points in this email. I've had the same concerns.

I wrote an article about other writer's writing processes a couple of years ago called "The Write Process", and it did help give me a well-rounded perspective on the reality of writing. There are many interesting ones that could be added to the list, like Michael Crichton writing scenes on 3x5 cards until he had a shoebox full, but just knowing that a dozen famous writers all disagree on almost every aspect of writing is quite helpful mentally and emotionally. Here's that article:

Then there's the whole can of worms on being on both ends of creating and criticizing. One important realization is that critics and creators aren't writing to each other or for each other, they are writing for a public, otherwise it would be in private correspondence. I wrote about that idea more in "Critics and Creators":

My last response reflects some of those ideas.

- - - - - - -

Lol. I was thinking the same thing about making that an article.

I agree that it's very motivating to see how other authors do it, and to realize that they all completely disagree. For instance, Shonda Rhimes is a prolific television writer known for Grey's Anatomy. She says that if you write every day you're a writer, if you don't you're not. Her favorite writer is Aaron Sorkin. He wrote The West Wing and various movies. He says that 90 percent of a writer's time is not writing. When he's writing a movie he usually thinks about it for about 18 months and then writes it in 6. So, by her definition Shonda Rhimes' favorite writer isn't a writer.

If keeping your writing close to the chest works for you, do that. Social media is crazy. I've even gotten some death threats for my political article on Antifa. I've had a number of insults for my writings on grief, where I'm developing an original theory. But, I've also had a lot of good compliments and people sharing my work. I'm certain that by this time my article on suicide has saved a few lives because of the circles that it's been shared in.

Isolation isn't too big of a deal for me. I teach English online and spend most of the rest of my time reading, writing, watching, and meditating.

I've written over 300 articles. Which would come to over 2,000 pages in a book, but no book yet. I'll probably make some article collections this year.

- - - - - - -

In addition to the over 300 articles I also have notes for more than 200 additional articles. I'll never run out of things to write, I'm guessing that the more I write the more I'll fall behind in comparison to the ideas that I have yet to write. I've been urged to write books about my adventure traveling out west mountain climbing, and my couple month road trip, and my near-death misadventure in Africa. Those would all be interesting, but I lived them, so it's not that adventurous for me to write about them. I do have some major works that I want to tackle in this lifetime though.

Out of all of the projects that I have started and have in mind there are two that would compromise major life works. One is a philosophical work creating a new structure connecting epistemology, ethics and morality, and political economics in a better way. The other is a literary work to compliment "Prometheus Bound" by Aeschylus. I do not know if I can accomplish either of those in this lifetime, they both still feel a little out of my reach in terms of mental insight and writing skill. But, there are other projects that have been growing which are unique and could contribute quite a lot to society, such as my original theory of grief, a new literary analysis method, work showing the emergent nature of morality in art, the historical pattern of abolition, my unique experiences and insights into meditation, and some of my current work in applied politics. So, my work has just begun.

Whenever we set out on a new venture doubts and concerns spring to the fore. Those are the things that make us stronger in overcoming them. And throughout history, letters have contributed to the overcoming of many such obstacles. Just maybe, it's helped in this case too.


To read more from Jeff go to or


Popular posts from this blog

Why is Slytherin House Bad?

Fighting Local Government Corruption - Part 1 of ?

Pro-Global Warming

Donate to Jeff's Work