James Allen Walker, Genesis Photos, Sacramento Bee

Writers on writing

2010 Books Issue | Good writing, say four successful practitioners of the craft, requires discipline, having a story to tell-and often a day job

Issue: "2010 Books Issue," July 3, 2010

Wilder Publications, which prints classic books ranging from The Federalist Papers to The Communist Manifesto, and the work of classic authors ranging from Frederick Nietzsche to G.K. Chesterton, puts a warning label on its output: "This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today."

I suspect that's partly untrue. Every book to some extent reflects its era, but both Nietzsche in his mad nihilism and Chesterton in his Christianity transcended the everyday preoccupations of their era. Conservatives prize the thinking of Hamilton/Madison/Jay, and leftists that of Marx and Engels, precisely because their work in part transcended their times.

Wilder Publications is also kind enough to print this humble suggestion: "Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written." Well, yes-sometimes changed for the better, sometimes not. Looney Tunes has a similar disclaimer on its DVDs.

We see you’ve been enjoying the content on our exclusive member website. Ready to get unlimited access to all of WORLD’s member content?
Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.
(Don’t worry. It only takes a sec—and you don’t have to give us payment information right now.)

Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.

And yet, as the song from Casablanca goes, "A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. The fundamental things apply. As time goes by." True ideas, those we derive from the Bible, are still true no matter how many years go by. And good writers try to tell the truth, even when their publishers are skittish.

At The King's College in the Empire State Building, I and two of my colleagues, Henry Bleattler and Kiley Humphries, recently asked four writers what they do, why they do it, and when they have time to do it. Two, Bret Lott and John Lescroart, tap into truth by writing novels. Two others, Susan Wise Bauer and Naomi Schaefer Riley, tell about history and religious beliefs.

For all four, the time element is key, and that's why I've divided this feature into three sections. Lott and Lescroart are both graybeards with long, distinguished careers: Their interviews come first and last. Bauer and Riley are still establishing themselves and doing so amid raising young children: Riley has two while Bauer homeschools four (and co-manages two businesses).

The experience of all four shows that good writers have not only talent but also time management skills on loan from God. Only Lescroart is so commercially successful that he can write throughout the day, but he first spent years doing odd jobs, including working as a typist for 11 hours each day in order to have two hours to write.

Part one: Writing while teaching

Bret Lott is a fine writer of literary fiction who hit the bestseller charts when talk show host Oprah Winfrey made one of his novels, Jewel (1991), an "Oprah's Book Club" selection. He is a South Carolina resident and a professor at the College of Charleston.

Q: What is your writing day like? My alarm clock is set for 5:15 a.m. I go upstairs with my coffee cup and I pray. I start out by praying on my knees and I read the Bible. I sit down at my desk and start working. Working means looking at what I have written the day before and going through it and editing it, seeing what is happening and hearing that voice, and then moving forward with it. Things are always in flux, but a good day of writing ends at 10 a.m. I teach two classes and have four independent studies and other teaching.

Q: What was your day like in 1999 when you got the phone call from Oprah? It was a very long very bad day. I had just finished my ninth book (Jewel was my fourth published) and it was a disaster. I spent all morning talking to my agent about this novel that was due a month prior and what a disaster it was. That day at lunch one of my students died.

Q: Just died? He died in his dorm room. He was 51 years old and he had a brain aneurism. When they found him he was reading one of my novels and had just keeled over. All kinds of mayhem kind of broke out and I happened to be answering the phones for the administrative director. . . . All of a sudden this woman says, "Bret, this is Oprah, we are going to have so much fun!"

The first part of my day: the novel did not work. Then this fellow died. I knew immediately that God is the God of all folks whether you believe in Him or not. It kept me very humbled. This guy dies and you realize a book does not even mean anything.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Power campaigns

    The GOP is fighting to maintain control of Congress…


    Troubling ties

    Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money…