The Long Haul

I'm sure you've heard the trucking term “long haul,” or the phrase “I’m in it for the long haul.” Maybe “It’s been a long haul.” For anyone who writes, “the long haul” perfectly fits your chosen profession – or even as a hobby, if you see it that way. You’d better be in it for “the long haul,” because that’s what it will be if your goal is a long-term career in writing.

When I look back over my 35 years of writing, I can hardly believe how or when I managed to write so many books. Writing has to be a true passion if you want it to be your career, because sitting down to write that first line to a new book – a big book of 400 – 600 pages – over and over again (in my case almost 70 times) can be daunting if you look at the figures. Sixty-one books published – almost 31,000 pages, 9,150,000 words – and that’s just first drafts. Every single book gets heavy editing and a re-write – more editing before sending it in – and even more editing at the publishing house. And that doesn’t include the 8 other books I wrote that never sold, tons of poetry and many, many magazine articles, blogs and speeches. All of that would probably come closer to 35,000 pages and almost 12,000,000 words.

It’s been a “long haul.” I can’t even explain why the love for my genre is so intense, or when I found the time to do all that writing, let alone the thousands of hours of reading for research. I have file drawers filled with hand-written notes and hundreds of magazine articles torn from western/history magazines that I saved for future ideas. I’ve reached the point where I don’t even need to dream up ideas any more, or search through my resources. Stories and ideas just come to me, and sometimes I swear I am being visited by real characters from the past who want me to tell their story, which perhaps is why my readers’ most used comment about my writing is that “the characters are so real.” I never experience sagging middles or writers block any more. I never worry about coming up with yet another new book. What I worry about is living long enough to write all the books I want to write.

I remember wondering, when Louis L’Amour died, and more recently Janet Daily, how many stories died with them – books they might have written if they’d lived longer. I find that very sad.

Some of my own years of writing are a complete blank. I went through so much working full time, raising two active little boys, having two major surgeries (including brain surgery), two broken wrists (at the same time), all the daily chores of any woman working and keeping a home and trying to be a good wife – and somewhere amid all of that I wrote books – sometimes 2-4 books a year! And they were big, historical novels filled with real history, real events and locations. History was told through the lives of my fictitious characters. I read some of these books now and I am astounded at how much history and research is involved. I scratch my head and wonder when I did all of that. My only memory of managing to work and write so many books is that I seldom slept more than 3-5 hours a night. I remember falling asleep at the typewriter (yes, I started out with a typewriter, which makes writing all those books even more mind-boggling). The boys would be asleep. My husband would be snoring away – the house quiet – and even the dog would be sleeping. I was the only one awake and working.

I used to “sneak-write” at my secretarial job – and when most others got together or went out to lunch, I stayed at my desk and read my research books or proofed something I had already written. I even used to make carbon copies of my earlier books because I didn’t own a copy machine, and there was no such thing as hooking a printer up to a typewriter. I would take my typed chapters to work and sneak copies there on the company copy machine.

I still work outside my writing life. We are heavily invested in a family business and I do most of the bookkeeping, so I put in three to eight hours a day there, where I have a wonderful, huge office upstairs. The office is my pay. I don’t get a paycheck. My income is my writing. Be that as it may, I am still working another job while I write books, so my days are still long even though I am well beyond the normal retirement age. I will never retire because I would hate sitting around with nothing to do but pursue hobbies (of which I have none – writing is both my hobby and my primary profession) – or traveling all the time (that gets old and I would miss my grandsons). I have to work - and I have to write - the same as I have to breathe.

I have said this before and I’ll say it again – if you want a career in writing, you had better love the art and love your genre and never look at writing as work or even as a way to make money. For one thing, there isn’t a lot of money in it unless and until you have been in it for years and have several books on the market. I didn’t start making decent money until I had about 25 books on the market. Even then, there will be good years and bad years and even some years when you sell nothing. Now, with the help of reaching the world through my web site and through Facebook and blogs and Goodreads and any number of other internet access points, my writing has taken a very successful turn – and what is most fulfilling is that many of the books I wrote over 30 years ago are being reissued and becoming best-sellers!

If you are in this for the long haul, writing should be the driving force in your life. You should never have a problem finding time to write but rather, finding time to do everything else. You will lose sleep, sometimes miss parties or a night out. House work will often fall by the wayside, and you’d better have an understanding and supportive husband, because he will spend a lot of time alone watching TV while you are at the computer back in your office or your bedroom.

Writing can save you when you’re down. It can be a catharsis for your troubles. It can help you get well after surgery, and it can even energize your sex life with your husband. After all, you have to take out those love scenes on someone! I write gritty westerns with pretty hot sex, so when my husband walks in on me while I’m writing, he teasingly asks if I want to shoot him, or if he should get out the Viagra!

Do you want a career in writing? You’d better be in it for the long haul. I could probably write a book with all the details of my writing career. There are so many things I haven’t mentioned here – some events in my life that could have stalled or ended my writing career – but it was writing that actually got me through those trying times.

The stories keep coming. Since I can’t shut off my brain there is nothing I can do to stop the flow. And as long as the stories and ideas keep coming, I will keep writing and pray I stay healthy enough to continue. I am definitely in this for the “long haul.”


Post a Comment