Writing Tip #69

Pick an author to pattern yourself after.

For those of you just starting to write, that might be a bit overwhelming. But this isn't something you have to share. Surely you have authors and books that you admire.

Choosing someone that you'd like to pattern yourself after gives you a good idea of the path in front of you. Let me explain why.

One of the first authors I fell in love with was Stephen King. Many of my readers know this, especially since some of my books could be considered homages to him (Isolation and Ghostwriter in particular). Reading The Stand, It and even short story collections like Night Shift back in the 80's helped continue to inspire me to want to be a writer.

As my collection of Stephen King books grew, and as I got to know more about who this prolific writer really was, I began to aspire to be like him. Not necessarily in terms of wanting to write horror novels like him. Yes, I wanted to do that sometime down the road, but it was something else that I aspired for.

I wanted to one day have a whole shelf of books with my name on them. And my foolish thought was this: If someone like Stephen King, this ordinary guy with a gift of story-telling and a crazy imagination, could have all these books filling my shelf, why couldn't I do the same?

Now before you go thinking I'm comparing my writing to King's, I'm certainly not. I would say I'm probably more like King than I am John Irving or Pat Conroy (two other favorite writers of mine). But what I thought was this: How cool would it be to tell a whole variety of stories and fill a few rows in a bookshelf?

I thought this as I got the job of Author Relations Coordinator at a publishing house right out of college. I continued to think it as I wrote novel after novel. Even after all of those got rejected, I continued thinking about that bookshelf.

I never shared that desire. How foolish would it be to say "One day I'm going to have a whole row of books of mine!" before even having my first novel published?

It wasn't about showing off a bunch of books. That wasn't my desire. I thought this way because I had a bunch of story ideas filling my head and heart. I really thought that if I was fortunate and figured out the way to tell a few of them, good things could happen.

I even did something that could have really intimidated some writers. I wrote down the publication dates of the Stephen King novels from 1974-1990 (see my post about it here). I kept this on my desk as motivation. I didn't tell anybody. Not my parents or wife or anybody. It would have looked silly.

Now maybe it would be insane of you to think about writing even half a dozen novels. Maybe you have one novel in you. Would it be foolish to want to be someone like Harper Lee? Sure, it would be if you told people all the time. But maybe deep down that could be your goal. To write one amazing and life-changing novel (that's still my goal every time I start writing a new one). Maybe you'd like to be a literary writer who writes dense and meaty narratives that take years to write. Maybe you want to write series like sci-fi or romance writers.

Maybe you don't care about any of that stuff but simply want to be published.

I say look down the road. I've been looking down the road ever since I was in third grade. I'm still looking down the road. (There's an Arbys not far down the road from my office--I'm looking beyond that).

If you're serious about not only writing but also publishing, then pick an author or two that you'd love to have a career like. Let this serve as motivation. Don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen in the exact way you'd like. Remember--Stephen King's first book has outsold all of mine combined.

That's okay.

I have a clipping from the USA Today that says the following headline:

"After final 'Harry Potter' book, can anyone fill the void?"

I'm keeping that up there until someone does.

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