Writing is an addiction

Other topics in Rhobin’s rounds

Rhobin’s January, 2017 topic: Everybody wants to write a book, but most do not. Writing is hard work. What got you started, and what helps you get through a complete story?

What is a writer?

A writer is not just a person who writes. Almost anybody can write, which is why publishers are drowning in a flood of manuscripts that no one wants to read. But a writer MUST write. I can no more give up writing than I can do without breathing. It is something I do all the time. Working at one of my many tasks, talking with a friend, whatever I am doing, I am also observing life and translating it into words. I look at the expression on a face, the movement of a hand, a flower, the scenery, on joy and suffering and squalor and magnificence, and all of it is stored away, to emerge some time later. Everything is ammunition for the machine gun of my imagination. It will become part of some work or another, perhaps a long time later, transformed and hidden and combined with other experiences.

Sometimes, a publisher has rejected a work I’d submitted, or a critic has been unkind. I feel that a child of my spirit has been trampled, and get depressed. I think, What’s the use? I might as well be sane like everyone else and watch TV or something.

At times like this, I need some solace. And what do I do to survive?

I write.

The inside of my mind has been like this, for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t know that I was a writer. My passion as a youngster was distance running, and as I covered the many long miles, I passed the weary minutes and even hours by making up endless monologues. I never thought to share these with anyone else — for Heaven’s sake, who’d be interested in my thoughts? But unknowingly, I was a grub feeding on the juicy green leaves of experience.

At school, and later at University, my quirky mind allowed me to excel, while at the same time it was impossible for me to fit into any system. I just felt different, and odd, and therefore inferior. I coped by trying harder than anyone else, and accumulating a long list of successes.

Did they make me feel better about myself? Of course not. So, I continued to strive, and to buck the system.

Here is an example. During my second year at University, I chose to attend Philosophy. One of the Professors gave a very well organised series of lectures. I think they must have been the chapters of a planned book. And at the end of the year, while preparing for the examinations, I noticed that Lecture 3 and Lecture 11 were incompatible. If one was correct, the other couldn’t be. Both were important topics, so I tried a gamble. I prepared a double-sized answer that summarised both topics, then showed how they conflicted with each other.

Sure enough, two of the five questions were on these two topics. Gulp, will I? Won’t I?

I did. I gave a combined, double-length answer to the two questions.

Then of course I spent the weeks until the announcement of the results with the snake of apprehension slithering about in my stomach. In vain did I tell myself that I answered the other three questions well, and that this was only one of three exams in Philosophy, and I was bound to pass even if this man chose to fail me.

But it was all right, he had a sense of humour. He gave me a High Distinction. And the next year, he’d dropped Lecture 3.

Later, my creativity found a happy temporary home in research. Not that I could keep to the customary formulas! My PhD project was so odd that I had to spend a year inventing a new method of statistical analysis, one that, as far as I know, has never been used by anyone else.

And then I became a Mudsmith, with a deliberately low-income, almost self-sufficient lifestyle, and started writing. [Read my essay that explains this crazy idea.]

Hemingway advised: “Write what you know about.” At that time, I was building my house, and learned new skills every day. This was what I wrote about, mostly in an excellent magazine called Earth Garden. These ‘how to’ articles were pedestrian, like the recipes in a cookbook. But they struck a chord, and my ideas resonated with the thousands of people reading the magazine. So, one day I wrote a letter to the magazine’s publisher, Keith Smith, suggesting that the two of us could co-author a book about building. He had posted a letter to me on the same day, with the same proposal!

The Earth Garden Building Book took us two years to write, maturing like good wine. It came out in 1987, and went through four editions. It has been reviewed as the ‘Australian owner-builder’s bible’, and has been used as the main reference by tens of thousands of people as they built their houses.

My second book, Woodworking for Idiots Like Me, was more ambitious in a way, being a series of autobiographical short stories. Each story had a practical lesson and a recipe for doing some aspect of woodcraft. It also did very well, being repeatedly reprinted over five years. It is now available in electronic form.

In the meantime, I continued my growth as a writer. My first win in a competition was in 1991, a third prize for the story, Peace for the Joker. Ever since then, I’ve had occasional bursts of short story writing, and each time won prizes and awards.

Gradually, I got more ambitious and tried to write novels. The first three were no more than learning exercises, but gradually I grew wings of many colors, and flapped them, and my ideas flew. I now have 15 published books, with the 16th on the way, and the critics have been kind — well, almost all of them.

I hope that my words will give you pleasure, and open doors of understanding into worlds you haven’t yet explored.


PS Being a Greenie, I recycle. So did people like J.S. Bach and Wolfie Mozart. This is an extract from a file at my website, which is stolen from my anthology Through Other Eyes.

Please leave a comment, then visit the other participants in Rhobin’s Rounds, and leave them a comment too.

Rhobin Courtright
Skye Taylor
Margaret Fieland
Heather Haven
Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham
Helena Fairfax
Beverley Bateman
Marci Baun
Judith Copek
Rachael Kosinski
Diane Bator
A.J. Maguire

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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21 Responses to Writing is an addiction

  1. Victoria Chatham says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey, Dr. Bob. I’ve loved watching the Grand Design TV programme, both the UK and Australian series and been fascinated with what materials people have built their homes from. I recycle as much as I can and usually only have garbage pick-up once a month as I generate so little. It may only be a drop in the bucket in the overall scheme of things, but I think it an important drop.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Hi, Victoria,
      I don’t have a TV, so haven’t watched that program, but am aware of how ingenious people can be. If I was building now, I’d make my house from straw bales and earth.
      A great river is made up of drops of water. All the drops move in the same direction, producing a mighty force.


  2. judyinboston says:

    You are spot on about having to write. Yesterday as I marched with 150,000 others in Boston, I kept wanting to get home to my computer and write about my experience. Writers have to write. Even on cell walls with their own blood for ink. I think the same must be true of painters and musicians and everyone in the arts. Compulsion. Interesting how you went from non-fiction to fiction. It’s hard for some to make that transition. And by the way, almost all of us have a BAD first novel in the drawer or the depths of the computer. We had to start someplace and writing is definitely an activity where you learn by doing. Nice post!


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Judy, well done, marching. We must keep up the struggle for a sane, decent world despite all that Trump stands for.
      I wrote three unpublishable novels before one I was pleased with. Then I read a book on how to write fiction, by a man called Olaf Ruhen. It was brilliant, and helpful, so I read some of his novels. They were flat and unexciting…


  3. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Oh yes, several Mozart symphonies and things sound about the same. Even the greatest creative geniuses repeat stuff. Maybe he’d written so many he forgot the older ones.
    Nice to have another fellow greenie. I know Rhobin is too. I’ve been doing it since 1972.


  4. okwriter says:

    Dr. Bob, I enjoyed your post and how you developed over the years. And like many of the posts, I agree writing is addictive. Writers must write.
    And on a different thought, I’ve recycled and been a greenie for over 30 years. I never thought about people like J.S. Bach and Wolfie Mozart recycling. Interesting..


  5. tugger1304 says:

    I hear ya, Bob. I am addicted, as well. Writing is like breathing to me. It is a rare day I don’t write. I love how you phrased it, too. And I’ve always loved Ernest Hemingway. “Baby shoes for sale. Never used.” I mean a six-work short story? Really? Is that gorgeous or what? Thank you!


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Yes, I learned a lot, reading Hemingway. I suspect he is not so popular with current readers who like their noses rubbed into the theme. Or is that a future topic for a round robin?


  6. Rhobin says:

    Interesting!! My partner and I built our own house. He handed me a book on electricity and told me to get busy. I did, and my work even passed inspection. The county official doing the inspection said I did a better job than many by trained electricians, but his comment could have been because it was a woman doing the job. Books, whether non-fiction or fiction, are wonderful messengers. And I absolutely agree writing is an addiction — but more akin to the drive to eat. I’m always happier when I have works in progress and a full belly.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Amazing, in Australia you have to be a registered “A grade electrician” to do anything electrical.
      I am not so addicted to editing. Just working on a book with a good plot, but I am putting more red into it than there is black.


  7. Skye-writer says:

    Whenever I am presented with the opportunity to check a box about my employment I’m never sure if I should check retired since I did retire from my day job. But then, although I’d been writing for years, now I had the time to focus on getting published. So perhaps I’m self employed. Either way I can’t envision myself ever being retired from writing. The stories and the characters just keep talking to me.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Yes. As you know, I’ve retired 5 times so far. Writing is still left, while I have a working computer. (I can’t read my own handwriting). I’ve often said, I could be content in a cave in the desert, as long as it had room service and internet connection.


  8. Hi Dr Bob, I love your story about writing the same answer twice in your exam! That’s so laudable that your professor gave you a distinction. And congratulations on having written so many published books. Here’s to many more!


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Helena. I only wrote one answer, but it was double length. But I could never fit into other people’s boxes. Neither can my books.
      But you do well on the writing front, don’t you?


  9. Dr. Bob, I very much agree with your idea that writers MUST write. I literally feel like I’m missing a limb if there’s not a story I’m working on.


  10. ajmaguire says:

    It’s good to know other writers feel out of place in school and life too. Apparently it’s normal for writers to feel a bit disconnected from the social norm, especially in school. I think it’s that observational part of our minds trying to dissect the motivations of all the people around us.


  11. Margaret Fieland says:

    Bob, I’m always surprised by what ends up in my stories and how my characters manage to work things out. I thoroughly enjoy seeing pieces of my life and that of my friends and relatives end up in my stories.


  12. Marci Baun says:

    I find that everything in my life becomes fodder for a story, even if the story isn’t being written yet. My brain files the information away for use at a later time.

    Your circuitous path to writing shows how each person’s journey is unique. I love how I came to this subject with a preconceived notion about how most of the blog posts were going to go and had it blown apart.

    It just goes to show you never can tell.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Wouldn’t it be a boring world if we all thought the same? Not that there is danger of that while I am alive.
      I don’t know why seven and a half billion people march out of step with me.


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