(Photo: With Alexa Hale, Project Based Learning teacher of SCVi)
It was a privilege to speak at the Santa Clarita Valley International School (SCVi) in Castaic, CA. Speaking in front of 60 sixth-graders and inspiring them to be creative writers was an awesome experience. I got a positive feedback from the students. Captive audience all. Now they are ready to write their own book for the Storybird Project. A copy of the following article was handed to students to remind them that they can be a published author too like me.
So, you want to write a book? I’m telling you, it’s not an easy goal. But if you have the discipline and perseverance in your system, then you can be a published author.
It took me 15 years to finish my novel The Zhongguo Orchestra—ten years of day dreaming and five years of actual writing.
Yes, those ten lost years didn’t amount to anything except that it filled my dream basket with buts and ifs. Doubts were my unwelcomed visitors and later on became my unwanted companions. In those fledgling years, my enthusiasm for writing waned, and at times, a week passed by without even a single page to credit. Unbelief led to procrastination. I almost gave up on writing and thought of letting The Zhongguo Orchestra die a natural death. I prepared for its wake and was ready to mourn its passing.
You see, unlike other writers who pride themselves with a BA in English or an MFA in Creative Writing, I admit I have neither one of those coveted degrees. Nevertheless, the dearth of writing skills didn’t discourage me from moving on; on the contrary, it bolstered me even more to work harder.
To hone my writing skills, I became a self-educated writer. I read some How to Write articles on the internet and borrowed reference materials from the library. I also bought books on creative writings and slowly built myself a mini-library. I went further and subscribed to magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers. A writer must be a reader first!
Some of the books I read were How to Write a Thriller, Grammatically Correct, 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, Rewrite Right, St. Martin's Guide to Writing, Writer to Writer, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Plot & Structure, and other self-help books. I also read the creations of some great novelists like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, and Ken Follett. Tom Clancy showed up later in my writing life.
If you want to improve your writing skills, you must study the great works of those master-storytellers.
My manuscript didn't come out easily. I juggled everything in life – family, full-time job, and church activities. Writing always showed up at the bottom of my schedule. I got my solitude only when everyone at home was asleep. My creative juices usually flowed from ten at night to one in the morning. So imagine it was hard for me going to work on the following morning half-dead like a zombie.
The last two years of writing The Zhongguo Orchestra was a grueling experience for me. I felt like I’ve sailed into the unknown depth of literary seas fishing for elusive words that often escaped my convoluted mind. It was an arduous struggle from the start, and more than anything else, the process tested my patience and sanity.
My indomitable will prodded me to go through those difficult years. And during these times, a small voice—could be from an angel!—cajoled me relentlessly and said I have a good story to share with the world. This angel encouraged me often and said, “Don’t give up, Daddy!”
So I pressed on and I worked harder than ever before. I found my creative thoughts flowed naturally this time. I saw how my story metamorphosed from a lethargic draft to a promising manuscript. Afterwards, I started forming Beta Readers—friends who’d provided critiques of my manuscript without getting any compensations. The last year was nerve-racking for me, given all the writing and rewriting and editing, and everything that came in between that cycle.
Finally, The Zhongguo Orchestra came out but not without experiencing the blood, sweat, and tears of writing. Oh, the joy and pain of writing!
You see, some writers have natural flairs, and their literary wells overflow with the abundance of words. Those skilled ones could produce a novel in a three-month time or even in one month! You heard about NaNoWriMo? I envy those gifted writers, really. Me? I’m just an ordinary guy with two simple writing traits: discipline and perseverance – two enviable qualities that helped me complete my book.
Let me share you some points-to-ponder from Andre Jute, author of Reverse Negative. In his book Writing a Thriller, he said, “A Nobel laureate told me that, within a six block radius of the pub we were in, there were a hundred better writers than either of us . . . The difference between us, as published writers, and them as unpublished writers . . . was merely that we sat down and wrote a page a day or ten pages a day . . . and they didn’t.” He also said, “The writer’s greatest virtue is never to give up. If you were born stubborn, obstinate and plain pig-headed, you have a good start.” Wow.
So now, do you really want to write a book and become a published author? Well, the only thing that can stop you from achieving your goal is—You! Take it from me—an ESL author. I hope my story will motivate you to write if nothing else. Quit dreaming, and start writing! sDg.