AUTHORS user and contributor Bill Oskinski gives a review of Walter Mosley’s craft writing book, This is the Year You Write Your Novel and a story about how it helped him finish his first nonfiction book, Ungodly, A True Story Of Unprecedented Evil.
BY BILL OSINSKI, AUTHORS USER
For anyone who might feel overwhelmed starting their magnum opus, I most strongly recommend renowned author Walter Mosley’s insightful book, This Is Year You Write Your Novel. One of President Bill Clinton’s favorite authors, Mosley created the singular character Easy Rawlins in a thrilling and knowing series. Before attaining such success, Mosley, too, had to overcome the near-universal writer’s fear of the blank page. In a concise and highly practical guide, Mosley expounds on how to break through whatever mental or emotional inertia is blocking you from producing your book.
I will take the liberty of summing up Mosley’s message in one word: DISCIPLINE. He advocates writing every day for a set, manageable period of time. If you don’t waste your energy thinking about how much further you have to go, you’ll have a day’s (or an hour’s, or two hours’) work done. If you do that every day, you’ll be amazed at your progress. A page a day turns into 30 in a month and 360 in a year. Voila! You’ve got a first draft.
I can personally vouch for Mosley’s philosophy. I was a journalist for many years and I always wanted to write a book; but I thought the process would be too daunting. Several years ago, a university press asked me to write a non-fiction book on a story I’d covered for about five years: the bizarre and tragic saga of an African-American cult that transplanted itself from urban New York City to rural Georgia. The leader of the faction, a Brooklyn street kid named Dwight York, declared himself a god and for 35 years ran his cult under the noses of politicians, police, and educators. In Brooklyn, York was a phony Imam leading the Ansaru Allah Community; in Putnam County, he morphed into Dr. Malachi Z. York, Master Teacher of Tama-Re, a roadside Egyptian-flavored theme park and cult headquarters.
I was certain I needed a leave of absence to have the time to write the book, but my boss refused my leave request. Once my anger subsided, I decided to write the book no matter what. I started rising early enough to spend an hour or so writing before I went to work. On pleasant mornings—of which there are many in Atlanta—I wrote on my front porch, where I could savor the quiet and the scent of my camellias. I used my vacation time for research trips and interviews. Within a year, Ungodly, A True Story Of Unprecedented Evil was done. My editor was elated by the manuscript.
However, I was still far from home base. One of the central figures in the book is a former Governor of Georgia who actually took the cult leader’s side and actively tried to inhibit the local sheriff’s investigation. Racial politics at their worst. I did not realize that the politician was also a member of the university’s fundraising board. When he objected to the manuscript, the university press folks caved and I pulled the manuscript despite having no other publisher at the time. Fortunately, I found a small, regional press that was not beholden to the Governor, and Ungodly became a Barnes & Noble featured regional title.
The marketplace will tell you if you have the talent to become an author, but you must supply your own determination and discipline. When I was an engineering and physics major at Florida State University, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Shaara’s creative writing classes. I’ll never forget his comment on the primary importance of writer’s discipline. He said he could not and would not teach us how to write, nor would he critique our writing. “All I can do,” he said, “is encourage you to sit down and write.”
Bill Osinski is a writer using the AUTHORS.me platform and a veteran journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org