The Role of the Writer

The Role of the Writer

Guest Post by Best-Selling Author Joseph Lewis

“The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” ~ Anais Nin

Whenever I read a quote by Anais Nin, I find it thought-provoking as it settles in my head, and I find myself keep coming back to it. There are other writers with thoughts and quotes who do the same to me, but Nin is at the top of the list. I couple this with Robert Frost’s quote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Between the two quotes, you have your goal as a writer crafting your story.

First, Nin. It isn’t enough to repeat that which has already been said. Read one or two stories with the same or similar theme, and the reader gets bored. Instead, ask yourself the questions, ‘What is it that you are afraid to say? What is it that you are afraid to put down on paper?’

It doesn’t matter what it is, but the answer to those two questions is exactly what you need to write. Those are your marching orders.

Frost spoke to the feeling and tone of the writer and the piece that was written, and it is important to remember and serves as a validation of your writing. If you don’t ‘feel’ what the characters feel, if you aren’t moved to laugh or to weep in your story, rest assured your reader won’t either. They just won’t. And, if they don’t, perhaps you have yourself a lifeless, boring story that will cause the reader, at best, to yawn their way through it, and at worst, cause the reader to set the book aside and not finish it

Faulkner said it a little differently, but his quote speaks more to the idea that if there is a story in you, just get it down. Get the first draft written. Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” That’s important to remember. In the first draft, JUST WRITE. Don’t filter it. Don’t tone it down. JUST WRITE. Don’t worry about sentence structure just yet. Certainly don’t worry about societal politeness … yet. JUST WRITE. Get the story down. Take chances and let the story unravel on its own. The first draft is yours and is yours alone. After that draft is written, tweak, rewrite, and craft to your heart’s content. You need to do that anyway, but save it until after your first draft is written.

When Stephen King wrote, The Stand, or when William Golding wrote, Lord of the Flies, do you think they thought, ‘Well, I shouldn’t say this or put this in there. It’s just too … (fill in your own word)? No, they didn’t care. They had a story to write and they wrote it. They didn’t care about political niceties or what polite society might think. In both books (two of my absolute favorites of all time), they told a story- lumps and bumps and all. And in both cases, the stories are timeless.

There are times, more than not, when I sit down to write with an intention of crafting a scene or a bit of dialogue, but as I write, the characters take over and do or say the unexpected. In my last book, Fan Mail, the characters wrote that story. All I did was guide them as best I could, which at times in the book, was like herding cats. But it worked!

When I wrote, Blaze In, Blaze Out; Betrayed; Spiral Into Darkness; and Caught in a Web, I had a story to tell. Same characters for the most part, but different stories. I highlighted one or two characters verses another one or two, but in each case, I let the characters take control of the story.

Some readers didn’t like the fact that two of my characters are gay. That’s okay with me. I realize my stories aren’t for everyone, even though I’m not explicit or graphic. Not at all. But I realize there are gay kids in the world. I’ve met with them in my counseling office or coached them on my basketball team. Many of the things my characters say and do come right from the kids I worked with, coached, or watched and overheard.

But in the case of each of my books, the story is the story, and I unleashed the characters to tell it. It’s the only way I know how to write, and it is the only way I will write. I will always keep true to myself, and that means, I will keep true to my characters as they live and grow in my books.

In truth, the only time I knew how the story/book was going to end, including the words, the setting and the action, was in Fan Mail. It was after the first four chapters were written. The ending came to me. I stopped where I was and wrote the final three chapters, and when done, I wrote the rest of the story to meet the ending in those three chapters. Did I rewrite or tweak what I had previously wrote for the ending? Hmmm, not much, actually. That ending moved me, and still does. It moves the reader, speaks to their heart. At least, that is what they tell me in their reviews or in email or in person.

Have you ever read a book or story and come across a chapter, maybe more than one chapter, where nothing seems to happen or perhaps, is repetitive because it retells the same action and message as a previous chapter? Boring, right? You might even question whether to continue reading the story. It’s because the story doesn’t move.

In the same way as the story has to grow on its own, the story has to keep moving.

To help in this process, you might want to consider the question: How do I want the story to end? What is the ending? Once you have this solidified, simply write to that ending.

However, sometimes, the ending doesn’t show itself right away. The story will unfold on its own and in its own time. But at some point, the ending will reveal itself and when that happens, write to the ending. When you edit, you can make sure there are no dead spots, and you can limit needless repetition. Good editing does this anyway, so this serves as a reminder to do so.

Joseph Lewis has been in education full or part-time as a teacher, coach, counselor, and administrator for 48 years. He has authored nine books, earned approximately 20 awards, and is currently finishing up his tenth book, Black Yé’ii (The Evil One), which is a sequel of sorts to his book, Caught in a Web. It is due to be published January 2025.

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2 Responses to The Role of the Writer

  1. Joseph Lewis February 8, 2024 at 3:20 pm #

    Thank you for the opportunity to be a guest on your blog site. I appreciate it, and I appreciate what you do for authors and writing.

  2. Kimberly Monaghan February 8, 2024 at 3:30 pm #

    Joe, this means so very much to me. Don’t always get gratitude so when I do, it makes my week! You rock! Keep writing and keep inspiring:)

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