28 October 2023

The Guts that it Takes to be a Writer

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand."  Harper Lee

As I sit at my desk looking out the window at the black October lake, it occurs to me that I've been contemplating how to write this post for a long time.  Perhaps I was waiting for a suitable trigger [sic].  Ironically (just can't resist these puns) I sold the last of my gun collection after Sandy Hook, and no longer engage in sport shooting. For that reason, and perhaps the fact that I also no longer fly small craft and gliders, a person close to me hinted that I had become rather conventional.  

For some reason, that bothered me. Dagnabbit, was he equating conventional with boring?  That got me thinking about being a writer.  And frankly, I don't think any of us are conventional.  We are the very opposite of that.

The point of this post:

I've always told my classes that you need three things to be an author:

Talent -  the ability to come up with new story ideas again and again

Craft -  the dedication to learn the craft of writing, which takes time, instruction, and what I like to call an 'apprenticeship'

Passion - the determination to spend hours alone at your keyboard, creating those stories

I've known a lot of adult writing students who have talent.  I've been able to teach them the craft.  But if they don't have the passion that being an author requires, then the first two don't mean much.  It takes me nearly 1000 hours to write an entire novel, in final form.  That's a lot of butt-in-chair passion. 

In addition, I have taught people who show talent and passion, but won't take the time to learn the craft.

But lately, I've come to recognize something I've overlooked, something absolutely critical for a writer to stay in the game.  I'm adding a fourth essential to the list:


I didn't fully understand how much courage it took to be a writer, until after I'd been published a dozen or so times.  Now, with more than 60 short stories and 18 novels, perhaps 200 humor columns and comedy credits, I've found my courage faltering at times.  But what exactly do I mean?

Voices stronger than mine have said that writing is easy - you just open a vein and bleed.  I can attest that my protagonists, while different from each other, often have my moral beliefs and views on life.  They put forth and discuss issues of ethics and politics that support a Canadian woman's viewpoint.  Mine.

So that when I am writing fiction or humour, I am not only demonstrating (for better or worse) my talent as an entertaining writer.  I am also exposing the things that are important to me and that I believe in.  What it boils down to is this:  not only is my writing open to being criticized, but my personal beliefs and morality are also up for grabs.

For this, I have - like many female writers - been hounded by trolls on social media.  Usually men (but not exclusively) who wish to make me uncomfortable, to diminish me in some way.  To erode my confidence, and hopefully make me fearful.  In all cases, they wish to silence me.  They hide behind the screen of anonymity.

In the old days (by this I mean pre-Amazon) we took criticism from professional critics, plus our editors.  In a way, it was a jury of our peers, and we accepted that.  Now, to use a military analogy, we can't see the enemy.

It takes real courage to put your work out there, and take the slings and arrows of  criticism from unknown players, many of whom have sinister intent.

It takes guts.  

Harper Lee said it best.

Melodie Campbell writes from the northern shore of Lake Ontario.  Mainly mob capers, but also classic whodunits like The Merry Widow Murders, online and at most bookstores.


  1. Insightful, Melodie. The fact that jerks try to intimidate you proves that you are hitting the target. You don’t need a gun, just fingers on a keyboard—and of course courage.
    Edward Lodi

    1. Thanks for your wonderful comment, Edward! I am finding that now, more than ever, I have to 'walk the talk' - and it comes with a cost, alas.

  2. As Anonymous said, only more impolitely, f*** the jerks. They don't have the guts to do anything but snipe from afar.
    So if we don't own guns we're "conventional"? Tell the commenter, hey, you go live on the streets of L.A. as a teenager for 2 years and never own a gun and survive. You have to be clever, fast talking, fast running, and very, very quick to recognize and respond to situations. (In fact, the streets are one reason I've never owned a gun, because I quickly figured out that the first thing dangerous people want to do to someone who does own a gun is take it away from them. Generally in unpleasant ways.)
    Keep on keeping on exactly as you are!

    1. Thanks Eve. Your comment gave me a new perspective re 'the streets' - the rationale for not carrying a gun - a point of view I hadn't heard before. Almost every month, I learn something from you.

    2. Thanks, Melodie. All those homeless people everyone is so scared of? They may be pooping on the streets, etc., but almost none of them have a gun. It's just too dangerous.

  3. Melodie, great column. Yeah, most people can't keep their butt in the chair long enough to write a novel. That's why I encourage newbies to try NANO. They won't finish a book, but they'll get a better sense of what it means to produce 50K words, 1667 a day. Especially since about 49K of them will be crap, which is OK, too.

    Then...showing your work to someone else, especially someone with the power to let you through the gates or not, the person who can say "you're good" or "you suck." That really IS courage.

    I can only think of two things as terrifying. One, stepping in front of a high school English class the first day of school, the blonde, blue-eyed guy in an inner-city school. My wife will tell you I threw up the night before the first day of school, every night for over thirty years.
    Two walking onstage in your very first role to deliver the play's very first line (Twelfth Night, if you care).

    It keeps the blood pumping so you can open that vein. I still love it.

    1. Steve, I can sure relate to the stepping in front of the class that first day of school. Me, a female, in front of a college first year business class...similar inner-city school. I also like your pointing to NANO. Thanks for commenting!

  4. I looked in on a self-pub forum where members desperately wanted to be published. Unfortunately, some loud ones rejected writing wisdom, saying grammar and punctuation were overvalued and that first person (and especially 1st person present tense) was the only way to write a decent novel because 3rd person was 'pretentious'. Disagree, and wham! Excommunication came swiftly. Although I suspect most of the whiners were male, diatribes weren't aimed particularly at women, but anyone who had a whiff of being or wanting to be professionally published. Pity they will never read your article, Melodiem they could use a dose.

    1. Leigh, your comment reminds me of a conclusion I came to after teaching many years of college: some of the people in my class would follow anyone who told them that their lack of success was not their fault. It was someone else's fault. It really does explain so much in this world.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>