Marching Along

March begins tomorrow, and suddenly, it feels as if the the months are speeding by too fast. January seemed about three months long, and February about three days. At the rate I’m going, March will feel like three hours, and that is not enough time to do everything I need to do. Like print out more information about campsites and such for my May trip. Like get strong enough for a short backpacking trip. Like convert a bit of fat into muscle. Like work on my poor abandoned book.

In January, when I decided that March would be my novel writing month and marked “book” on my calendar, I felt as if I had forever to get in writing shape, and suddenly, here I am on the cusp of the month, and all I’ve done to prepare is drag out my printed copy of the manuscript.

I truly have no specific intentions other than to spend a bit of time every day focused on the book and maybe move the story along a bit. I have no word count goals, not even any expectation of finishing the book. I should be able to do that, right?

We shall see.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Zigzagging in Writing and Life

I walk in the desert, sometimes on straightaways, sometimes on hills. I learned something from the hill walks: she who goes up, must come down. And sometimes “down” means a very steep grade. I discovered that it was much easier to get to the bottom of these steep hills if I zigzagged from one edge of the path to the other. By descending diagonally, I can cut the steepness of the hill and am able keep my footing.

This seems to be a good metaphor for plot. While writing, we zigzag down an increasingly steep slope, never quite letting our readers know what direction they are traveling, but always keeping them on the path to the end. Or perhaps they are going up a hill, but the point is still the same: zigzagging.

I sent More Deaths Than One to hundreds of agents and editors, and the consensus was that my writing style was too matter-of-fact for the overly complicated plot. This from people who never read more than a few chapters. (Luckily for me, I finally found a publisher — Second Wind – who read the whole novel and understood what I wanted to accomplish.)

It could be that as readers head down the steep slope of my story, zigzagging from side to side, the plot does seem complicated, but when they reach the end and look back, they can see that the story is very simple. A straight path. A man discovers that what he knows about himself is a lie, and he sets out to discover the truth. Very simple. All the complications are simply the zigzagging path.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Today I Am Officially a Writer

First draft of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

First draft of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

I got serious about writing a little over a decade ago. That’s when I started writing novels as well as researching the craft of writing and the publishing industry. I finished writing my novels about seven or seven years ago, then concentrated on rewriting and polishing the manuscripts to make sure they were as good as I could possibly make them. Meantime, I sent out hundreds of query letters in an effort to find an agent or publisher.

You’d think all those years focused on the craft of writing, rewriting, editing, proofing, querying would qualify me to call myself a writer, but it was just something I did, not something I was, so I never gave myself the title.

Even after my first two books were published by Second Wind Publishing in 2009, I still didn’t identify myself as a writer, except in relation to the books. For example, Pat Bertram, author of More Deaths Than One. I now have five books published — four suspense novels and one book about grief — but I still didn’t call myself a writer. It seems sort of silly and, considering all the millions of writers who have a book listed on Amazon, makes me not the least bit special. And anyway, I don’t make a living off writing, which would, I think, be a major qualification to list “writer” as one’s occupation.

Today, I had to go to the bank to fill out some paperwork, and they asked my occupation. Oddly, the only thing that came to mind was “writer.” I laughed to myself and said sotto voce, “What the heck.” Then, louder, I told the clerk, “I am a writer.” (It’s a good thing they didn’t need to ask what my income was. They’d probably have laughed in my face.) Still, “writer” sounded so much more interesting than shrugging off the question about occupation with a brief comment about taking care of my father.

So now it’s official. I am a writer.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Why is Writing Important?

With such a staggering number of books on the market and more to come, why is writing important? Only a small percentage of writers have ever made a living at writing (and most of those were people who wrote books on how to make a living at writing), and that percentage seems to be shrinking. More than 80% of books sell fewer than 100 copies. Maybe 50% sell only about ten copies or so. So, why write? The wonder of writing fiction is that a story born in one mind grows to full power in another mind. But what if you don’t have readers, or at least not many? And why take the time to learn the craft since some of the books that do sell are poorly written tripe?

If nothing else, this conundrum that writers face today makes us focus on what we get out of the writing process itself.

For me, writing is something that connects the parts of my life, even though I don’t always write. I once quit a job to write a novel, but found I had no intrinsic talent. I was young and didn’t have the wisdom to know that there are two types of talent — the intrinsic kind that’s called talent, and the learned kind that is in itself a kind of talent, the kind that that comes from trial and error. Even if I had known about the second kind, I didn’t have the patience to write the million words it supposedly takes to learn how to write, so when life got in the way, I let it. Other things simply were more important. (Some people believe you have to have a passion for writing, that it has to take precedence over everything else, but writing is not always “life” nor is life always “writing.” If one does not live, one has no reason to write.) Years later when my life had pretty much come to a standstill because of various misfortunes, I took up writing again, but when my life mate died, I lost the desire to write fiction. Perhaps one day the desire will come back along with a different focus and possibly a different talent.

Writing for me is also an emotional outlet and a way of discovering why I feel the way I do. While struggling to deal with the death of my long-time mate, I poured out my heart and my soul and my grief into journal entries, letters to my deceased mate, and blog posts. I don’t know if I could have survived without that outlet. A book compiled of some of the best writings of that time, Grief: The Great Yearning, has now been published, yet when I wrote during this time (except for the blogs, of course), I had no expectation of my words ever being read. I wrote for me.

Reasons for writing are as varied as those who write. For example, in a recent online discussion, horror writer Rob M. Miller said, “I write because I have something to say, and I want it to be heard.” Even if there was a chance he wouldn’t be heard, he would still write because, as he says, “I write to self-explore my mind, to self-medicate, to share my worldview.”

I like those reasons for writing. Too often when I ask writers why they write, they say they only want to entertain, which makes me cringe. If entertaining others is the only reason for writing, then why bother? The “others” can find a lot more entertaining things to do than to slog through someone’s unseasoned prose. But if you’re writing to share your worldview or to explore your mind, then your writing actually has value. Of course we want people to enjoy what we write, but entertainment can’t be the only reason to write, unless it’s for our own entertainment. Writing is a good way of passing the time. It’s better than watching television and it could change someone’s life, perhaps our own.

A Writer Writes. Always?

A writer writes. Always.

Or so they say. (Whoever “they” are.) Many professional authors write for six months a year and spend the other six months promoting. This does not make such writers less than those who doggedly sit down every day and churn out a quota of words. A writer writes, of course. But always? So much goes into writing — thinking, outlining, researching, learning the craft — that it’s hard to tell when a writer is not working. 

I’m one of those writers who carry on imaginary conversations with my characters. I always plan to jot  down these conversations , but I usually have them when I am out walking, and by the time I get home, most of them are out of my head. A lot comes back when I sit down to write, and some of those conversations end up in the story.  Are these conversations writing? Of course not. But they are part of the writing process.  It is the process, the focus– getting into the story and staying there, keeping it in the back of our minds when we are doing other things, filtering our lives through the mesh of the story — that makes us writers, not simply word counts. 

Does writing this article count as “a writer writes; always”? Probably not. But I am writing, and writing this blog helps me focus my thoughts. Is editing considered writing? I don’t know. Still, I’ve been going through my finished manuscripts once more, taking out all the bits that fail to support the focus of the story, and  now those novels are better focused on the theme. But that editing cuts into my writing time. Does researching book marketing techniques count as writing? I doubt it, but writers who intend to be published one day need to know how to promote their book. All these things that take me away from my work-in-progress help focus my life around writing. Help focus my attention on writing. 

Maybe a better way of describing a writer is” a writer writes, and when a writer isn’t writing, a writer is focused on writing.”