In many ways, writing is like learning to play the guitar; you have to pick and choose your words, like notes, until you have the right mixture. As a guitar player, you tend to find your place in Country Western or Rock and Roll, never to roam. Can you imagine Johnny Cash or Mick Jagger having the ability to write a piece of Classical Music better than Mozart or Beethoven? Maybe they could have. Who knows? But they were comfortable within their respective fields and never made the attempt.
Suppose, as a wordsmith, you rest on your laurels when you may have the talent to outshine Shakespeare’s prose or Wordsworth’s poetry? Why not avoid safety nets and reach for the stars. There is growth even in failure.
Being that I am neither a musician, Shakespeare nor Wordsworth, I will cite examples of successful stretching in my own genre, westerns.
I am fortunate to have read most Louis Lamour’s works. I cut my teeth on “Hondo” and fell in love with the “Sackets” series –all these books have sold or are destined to sell in the millions. John Wayne’s Hondo found Louis Lamour on the set advising The Duke on his character. Lamour was beginning his successful career and Wayne was past the middle of his highly successful career. These two men, both destined to be leaders in their respective fields, came to admire each other.
How did the world’s greatest writer of westerns get his start? He worked many different jobs and wrote in his spare time. In the beginning, Lamour wrote pulp stories, along with western short stories. He received his share of rejection letters—BUT HE NEVER GAVE UP WRITING. The key word is never.
When he was settled in his role as a leading writer of westerns, Louis Lamour reached beyond himself and entered a new era, expanding his horizons.
“The Walking Drum” – written about life in the twelfth century, took Lamour years to research.
He was not afraid to introduce controversial ideas. “The Californios” began his walk down metaphysical paths.
Once the Sackets series was well founded, he followed the family back to its beginning. His metaphysical books never reached the popularity of the series about the beginning of the Sacket family, but they made a respectable showing.
Once, I was asked if I found any mistakes in Lamour’s westerns. “Dozens of them,” I answered. Lamour never corrected himself. Even his editors didn’t dare to correct him. They would hint and suggest, but never ordered him to make changes.
In later life, he had to protect the copyrights on his earlier work by republishing. I felt fortunate to read some of them and see how he had grown a writer. Although I’ve willingly read several of his later western books more than once, I had to force myself to read these earlier works a single time.
The other western writer who influences my work was a retired New York dentist. He started his career by writing articles for outdoor magazines. His work took him to Arizona and the Zane Grey Westerns were born. He wrote with a little bit more elasticity than Lamour, but he showed a different picture of Life in the Wild West. For the most part, I found his work dull, but enjoyed his descriptive nature. Zane Grey had his share of rejection letters, but he won out in the end by never—you guessed it—giving up.
I decided early in my writing life to follow a family and the difficulties they faced in the Western Movement. I decided to be a bit rawer in my description of their life style than other writers. Thus, my characters answered the call of nature and reacted more naturally in their gun fights.
I have become a fanatic about research. I’m not a successful writer yet, so I have to do my own research. I own up to my ignorance of grammar, but it does not stop me from sharing my work. My loyal readers/reviewers keep me on the straight and narrow.
One thing I have learned, going on my fifth year of professional writing, is to listen to critiques from other writers. It is only one step in the long road to being published. Most of all, I do not brush off corrections of my facts. I back them up with sources and will admit when I err. Luckily, I seldom have to do the latter.
I urge every writer to expand his writing experience, stretch his horizons. Never stop at the first planet, when you can own the galaxy.
List of Louis Lamour’s titles
List of Zany Grey's titles
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