There was a story on the internet about a man who tried to replicate Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s diet and workout routine for a month. It was not an easy task because it involved consuming over five thousand calories in high protein foods divided over seven meals per day and pumping an ungodly amount of iron to consume and utilize those calories. Even Johnson was initially skeptical of this effort when he learned of it over Twitter, responding with smug remarks, but conceded that he was impressed with the fellow in the end, partly because the man had realistic expectations. He started out weighing 207 lb and finished at 208 lb a month later, not looking significantly different after spending $1300 on the food alone. He did say that he felt healthier after his 30-day challenge, but he stressed that you cannot build a body like an action star in a month.
In spite of all the high flying promises of ad campaigns for machines and diet drinks that will give you a Cinderella-like transformation in 30 days or less, most of us know deep down that those promises are bogus. The only way you can lose 60 pounds within two weeks is by amputating your legs. Then again, the world is never short of suckers. There will always be people who buy into the story that those before-and-after photos were not reversed, Photoshopped, or spanned a longer time than advertised.
Building and maintaining a writer’s mind is similar to building a body. You cannot build it over night and it takes constant work to maintain. It is a lot less obvious because you cannot see it, but the principle is the same: You need to nourish your mind with a large and steady diet of healthy books and you need constant workout on your brain. Writing is not like riding a bicycle. It is not the sort of thing you learn once and never forget. It only looks that way because successful writers never stop training themselves.
A lot of people have fantasies about becoming a published author, including myself. But the longer I work at it, the more I realize how inadequate my daily training routine really is. Some people just seem to type out a story in a week, send it off to a publisher, and laugh all the way to the bank. But then again, some people can dead lift five hundred pounds. It doesn’t take very long to lift five hundred pounds. You just grab the bar and push it over your head. The whole process takes only a few seconds. But to build a body that can do it takes a lot longer than that. It takes years of very hard training.
Writing a full length novel is like lifting five hundred pounds. It looks impressive in and of itself, but the real work is in building the ability to pull it off. If Anthony Burgess wrote an immortal masterpiece like A Clockwork Orange in three weeks, it was only because he had already finished a rigorous preparation period. Putting the story on paper was just the lifting of the weight. Just that alone was not easy or effortless, but it was made possible by the training that preceded it.
If you are the sort of person who believes that writing fiction is a get-rich-quick scheme, I have bad news for you: It isn’t. Some people attribute E. L. James’ success with Fifty Shades of Grey to the author’s many connections in the media world. I don’t buy it. Other people have had better connections but their books did not sell 300 million copies. A more likely explanation is that she is fluent in a new language, specifically the language of texting, which may be divorced from conventional grammar but approximates what people are already accustomed to reading on their phones. A computer analysis of Fifty Shades also revealed that, although the book tends to deviate from conventional narrative structure, it follows the same emotional fluctuations as other best selling novels. All of this suggests that the book was neither a fluke or a success constructed from personal connections. The author had carefully prepared to write exactly the book that she did.
The writer’s mind is constantly melding and fusing words, story lines, scenes, and metaphors. A writer does not just read a book, but beach combs through it for small treasures. A writer is constantly on the lookout for new pigments that can help paint pictures with words. A writer is always thinking about writing. There are no real vacations for writers, just as there are no real vacations for the body builder. If you stop, you fall behind.
There really is no such thing as an over night success in fiction writing. It only looks that way because, unlike the bulging muscles you can plainly see on Dwayne Johnson, the muscles that writers train to build are invisible. But the muscles are there. They are hard to gain and easy to lose. And any sucker lead into believing that they can write a competent novel without going through the rigorous training process is as comical as the mug who buys into the con that he can lose his lard and put on impressive abs and pecs within thirty days.