A Piece of My Mind: Work in
As a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that
ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your
~ Ursula K. Le Guin
Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is
filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over
yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.
~ Tom Clancy
One of the banks I have money in is CitiBank/Smith Barney. They have a
new ad slogan: Lets Get It Done. They have this phrase plastered all
around the bank on posters, banners and buttons I think this is more a
slogan for writers than for a bank.
We, as writers, may have the idea of a work in progress. That usually
means an ongoing project or projects in development or research. However,
lately I've noticed a pattern at workshops and conventions - some writers
do everything but actually write the work.
Let me relay in this column something that happened almost 18 years ago on this
very subject. In the early 1990's, I was away multiple weekends, doing many
writers workshops and Science Fiction conventions.
I met a man named Michael. This young man seemed intelligent and very
bright. After a workshop panel of Creating Universes with Hal Clement, he
approached me and said "I have this great idea for a science fiction novel."
At that time Star Trek and Star Wars were in vogue.
I gave him the best advice I thought of, "Write an outline, use it as a
road map for your project and start writing the novel."
Six weeks later, at another science fiction convention, he came up to me.
"Mr. Pomerantz," He handed me an eight page outline of an interesting space
opera novel. "Here is the outline for the novel." I read it over. It was a
great outline. I thought that this novel could work if he
would buckle down and write this piece. It was one of those hybrid Star
Trek/Star Wars/Babylon Five kind of space stories with a few twists in the
"It's a good work in progress," I told him "Now write this novel, I would
enjoy reading this after you are done!"
He said "Well I have to tweak it a little more." He and his outline
vanished. One would think he would write this space opus and
I would never hear from him again.
About one month later, I did another writer's workshop in Manasas, VA .
. . and there, at a break of a panel discussion I was in, was Michael.
"Mr. Pomerantz," he said gleefully. "I just did character outlines and
pen-and-ink portraits." He also showed me the outline, which was unchanged
from the last time I saw it.
I encouraged him. "That's a great work in progress, Mike! So how's the
His face drew down and turned flat like I had deflated a tire.
"Well, sir. I am still working on a few more things and then I will write
it." and then he vanished again.
I next saw Michael three months later at Balticon in Baltimore, MD.
He boldly came up to me after the panel discussion of "Do Vampires suck?",
moderated by my friend Count Gore DeVol (his
web site for horror film fans)
"Mr. Pomerantz, The panel was great!" Michael surprised me.
I looked at him and remembered him well. "So how is the novel coming,
"Well sir," He pulled a large ship blueprint done in pencil from his
knapsack. "This schematic is the spaceship that the characters will voyage
on." He also showed me the character outline and profiles, which were now
drawn like Japanese anime characters. He also showed me the outline,
unchanged from the first time I saw it.
I smiled, trying to seem approving. "So, " I looked the blueprint,
"Where's the bath room on this ship." I spoke up glibly.
Michael went crazy. "Oh my god, I FORGOT THE BATH ROOM!"
Thinking quickly, I marked a spot of the diagram. "There it is." Michael
sighed relief. I thought one bathroom for 500 people, it might work.
"So how is the novel coming?"
He had that deer-in-the-headlights look, as he said, "I dunno, I really
haven't started it."
I took him aside privately. I looked at him very sternly and spoke
in a frustrated tone at him, "Look Mike, you been diagramming, outlining and
character portrait drawing for more than six months. Shouldn't you just sit
down and write this novel? When you first mentioned it to me, it seemed
like a great idea. I watched your progress, I was impressed. So why haven't
you done any real writing?" His face looked like no one had spoken to him
like this before. "Mike, don't show me anything more until you have
I saw Mike at a few other workshops, but he never came up to me again.
Other writers had communicated that Mike had shared the outline, the anime
pictures, character portraits, and the blue print of the ship with them and
never wrote a single word. After a few years, Michael disappeared from doing
This is what is happening to many writers with their work in progress. I
give you this advice, JUST WRITE IT!
Now some good news and a success story on the same subject. I met a woman
named Joan Basile who I encouraged six years ago to write her story. This is
an autobiographical account of an illegal abortion in 1964, the result of
which could have caused her to subsequently lose her four year-old twin daughters and her
teaching job. Well, Joan just sent me an e-mail this week. She will self-publish her book
You made your Bed later this year.
E-mail her, if you want to buy her book.
It makes me so happy my simple encouragement helped make her dream
come true. Her words from her e-mail touched me "Thank you so much. If it is
a success, it will be in large part because of you, Bennet". Joan, I have
done nothing, but thank you for the kind words. Congrats and good luck with
I just hope I can do an interview with her regarding how she wrote
So until next time reach for the stars!
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