A PROMISE TO THE READER
A writer must be ruthless. That means being ruthless with yourself, as well as how you see the world. Serious readers – even if they read for entertainment – expect courage and insight from the writer, who, for the privilege of telling a story, has taken on the risks of seeing clearly and experiencing deeply, as well as the lifelong discipline of craft. We will make the journey to hard places, and report with tender clarity. That is the promise we make to the reader from the first sentence.
Writing is a discipline that must be practiced daily. I have found that other practices, like meditation and exercise, tune you up for the rigors of sitting in the chair. When I’m
writing hard I try to work out every day – swimming with a Master’s team, strength training, hiking. In between writing projects, I don’t work out as much. Somehow it’s all connected.
Writing is a compulsion, too, and I’ll confess I have my rituals. The day goes better if I ride my bike to the office and back, opens up the senses. I bring lunch and read the newsprint editions of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Ever morning I wrap a bracelet around my wrist, a gift from a literary friend, that seems to bind me to the work.
It begins with a small jolt of recognition: that’s a story. Or: that’s a character. It registers from the news or an overheard conversation. It’s tiny, and needs research to build dimension. You go out in the field, experience what your characters will experience — the air, quality of light, food, street noise, smells. I have been to every location in my books, from the Dominican Republic to Bend, Oregon. Back home, I outline the story on a white board, stepping back to see the whole. Writing the prose manuscript is like climbing four hundred and fifty-three mountains. But at least you have a map.