I could write a book

Last year I had the good fortune to listen to a few talks from Thomas King, a Canadian novelist whose stories often consider the perspectives and experiences of “First Nation” peoples. King also teaches writing courses. In his courses — with rooms full of up-and-coming novelists — he issues the first challenge of being a writer: the physical labor of writing. King said he brings a copy of War and Peace to class, drops it on a table, and says, “To be a writer, you must be willing to sit at a desk and type this out. Then scrap it and do it again.
His point was that no writer finishes a book without the discipline of transferring ideas to a physical (or, at least, technological) form. Writing isn’t only the act of thinking of a story; it’s putting that story into a form  other people can read. I was tempted to think that King’s challenge was exaggerated. But try writing even a small novel — 160 pages or so — and see how many times you type and re-type before it’s done. You’ll beg to type Tolstoy.
I think of this whenever I meet storytellers. Someone tells them, “You should write a book,” and the storyteller thinks, “Yes. I could do that.” It doesn’t work that way. There’s a long distance between the story and the book. It’s the distance between a six-year-old dressing in a Mariners uniform and Ichiro on the field. It’s all the distance in the world. The work separates dreamers, storytellers, and writers.
There’s a second part to this. Many of the world’s writers aren’t great storytellers. Some of us envy those storytellers. We think, “Gee. I don’t have a story like that. I’ll never be a writer.” But the writer — the person who puts his or her story into a readable form — is the one who gets read. Not the storyteller. So writers, don’t get distracted by what gifts or stories you don’t have. Sit down and do what you do. Write. And don’t be intimidated by storytellers, at least not until they sit down and finish writing.


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