Sometimes a writer needs a pep talk. You know the kind I mean. “You can do it. You’re just hitting a slow spot. You’ve got the tools. You’ve got the talent. We believe in you.” The kind of thing that is designed to get those writing juices flowing like Niagara Falls on a good day.
The best pep talk I ever received didn’t sound a thing like that. Not even close.
My mentor and friend, the late Charles L. Grant, had a knack for knowing how to push a writer’s buttons. I remember early in my writing career I called Charlie to complain about the fact I had run into a brick wall and was ready to just pitch it all and quit. His part of the conversation wasn’t exactly what I expected.
“Charlie, it’s me. I’ve got a problem.”
“Hello me. What’s the problem?”
“The problem is that I haven’t written a word in six months.”
“What do you mean, OK? I don’t think you heard me. I said I haven’t written a word in six months. I’ve got a drawer full of rejections, and I’m just plain frustrated.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought you meant.”
I still wasn’t sure I had made my point, so I tried again.
“Charlie, what I mean is haven’t written a word in six months. Nothing I didn’t absolutely have to write.”
About that point he went into classic Charlie Grant mode. If you knew him, then you know exactly what I mean. You’ve probably even been the recipient of “the head shake” that precedes Charlie Grant mode at some point.
“I got it,” he said. “I speak the language. You mean you haven’t written a word in six months. I got it. But I’ve also got a deadline. You remember those? A publisher in England is paying me to not not write. I’m writing right now because that’s what I do. And all that being said, you have a decision to make.”
At this point I was sitting in the proverbial stunned silence.
“Listen, I love you like you were family, but you have hit a crossroads that we all come to. You either need to be a writer or a reader. Both are fine folks and they tend to get along together quite nicely. The only thing I can tell you is this. If you want to write, then write. If not, then don’t. It’s that simple. You’ve got the tools. I’ve seen them at work.
“The bottom line is this: I don’t need the competition. None of us do. The fewer writers there are, the more work there is for the rest of us. But … if you are going to be a writer, then just muscle through it and get to work. If you aren’t, then go out and buy my new book. Just make a decision. Now I’ve got to go because this book isn’t going to write itself.”
After a long night, I called Charlie back the next morning.
“Hi Charlie, it’s me.”
“Hey me. How many pages did you knock out yesterday after we got off the phone?”
“Are they any good?”
“The need some tightening up, but all-in-all, not bad.”
“You’re welcome. Gotta go. That deadline’s looming. Oh yeah … you better get used to those.”
The line went dead, and 500 miles apart, we both went back to work.
As I write this, it is seventeen years later. I have deadlines. And though Charlie died eight years ago (has it been that long), I still hear his voice. Every time I sit down at the keyboard.
Write or don’t write. Just make a decision.