Ramblings: Writing is Like Coal Mining

There was a time in my life, where I imagined that writing books would be a lot of fun. In my very first book (A Kernel in the Pod), which I wrote back in the mid nineties, I describe how my perfect life would be a children’s book writer, living in Zermatt, Switzerland, earning six figures from my writing and taking trips into war-torn countries doing medical relief work. I then added, “. . . the only thing that separated me from that dream was. . . reality.”

Documenting 'Dirty' Jobs: Miners At Work : The Picture Show : NPR

Since then, there has been a lot of water under the bridge. . . and closer encounters with reality. Writing is hard work, akin to coal mining. Writers come with an assortment of gifts and I bet there are some who can knock it out of the park with their first scribbles. I imagine Marilynne Robinson is such a writer. Her use of the English language amazes me. But for the rest of us, it is a brutal process. It is writing, re-writing, working with editors, being humiliated, and starting over.

Writing also requires a lot of investment in reading good books and classes. I have taken creative writing classes before as well as short courses in grammar. Actually, believe it or not, the two years I spent formally studying Arabic was the best rehab for my Appalachian grammar. I had to re-learn all the parts of syntax to know how to do the same in another language.

I am now taking the “Masters Class” program in creative writing. I had seen it advertised a lot and took such ads with a grain of salt. But I signed up for a year. I have been rather impressed. I have now completed my fifth class, each taught by a very successful writer. Not all of the teachers have been good, but most have been. Each class has about twenty lectures, workbooks, and etc.

The one theme that I hear over and over again is that to succeed in writing, it takes very hard work. Some of the successful writers describe how they spend 4-6 hours per day, everyday, honing their craft. Virtually all of the lecturers describe years if not decades of failures before their first success.

Of course, there are writers, like I mentioned, who hit a home run with their first work at age twenty.

I have a new appreciation for Dan Brown. I grew to hate him when he came out with his Da Vinci Code novel, which of course was made into a movie. I was an evangelical at the time and to us, everything was black and white, good guys and bad guys, angels or demons. The fact that the Da Vinci Code has a false narrative about Jesus, made us put Dan Brown in the “shit-list” category.

But of course Da Vinci Code is fiction and a simple work of art. I do realize that some readers have taken it as fact and added it to yet another one of their conspiracy theories. But having just completed Dan Brown’s class, I realize that he is an artist and has paid his dues to get where he has.

I am now attended a class taught by James Patterson. He earned a masters degree in creative writing from Vanderbilt. Then he wrote 50 short stories and not a single one was published. Then he wrote three books and he hustled them as best as he could, still with dismal sales. Now it is one of the most successful authors of all times (although I’m not a big fan of his simple narratives).

But, the underlying theme of these great authors is persistence and work, then more work, then more work.

Because I enjoy writing so much, it is my passion, and I’m humble enough to realize that I have room to grow and improve, I am willing to do the work. My medical career has been smashed. What else do I have right now? My dog?

I am still waiting on Ristretto Rain going to the presses. We are doing a few more read-throughs before. I am excited about it, however, it is the reader who will be the judge.

There are plenty of things about writing that I don’t have a gift for. I’m not a detailed-oriented person, so I would be a horrible copy-editor and have to rely on professionals for that. You probably gather that from reading my blogs, often filled with typos. But if I have a gift, it is in my imagination. I could write a book a day if I could only type that fast.

Since Ristretto Rain is at a resting spot, I started three novels. It would be impossible (without impacting the quality or work) to continue writing all three at this juncture. But one has emerge with the most passion. It has a tentative title, Retribution; Aleayn Bialeayn (Aleayn Bialeayn العين بالعين is Arabic for “an eye for an eye.”)

This book is a thriller set in war-torn Yemen. It dives in the ambiguity of war and terrorism on a very personal level. It is also a sequel of a novel I had written, Waters of Bimini. The main character, Brain Rogers (a Physician Assistant, like me), was introduced in that aforementioned novel. He takes on a Jason Bourne type role, but with compassion. This morning I finished the very first chapter (and very rough draft). If you are curious, that rough draft is here. Be kind. It will require many more re-writes to be in a final stage.

Published by J. Michael Jones

J. Michael Jones is a writer and PA who lives in Anacortes, Washington. He is the father of five children, who are now grown and out discovering this wonderful world on their own. He has previously focused his writing on non-fiction including medical topics and issues of the philosophy of Christian thought. With the success of his last book, Butterflies in the Belfry, Michael is now moving into fiction with his first novel, The Waters of Bimini.

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