In the Hood with Billy Coffey

In the Hood with Billy Coffey May 22, 2013

A lot of people talk about the art of writing.

Some of the people who say they are writers simply practice the art of hype.

But Billy Coffey is the real deal.

A good-hearted fellow who can craft a story from table scraps.

Billy’s latest book — When Mockingbirds Sing — will hit the shelves on June 11th but you can pre-order it now.

And you should, if you like a good story well-told.

I invited Billy to share something from his writer’s life here on the blog, just so that those of you unfamiliar with Billy might get the chance to see what you’ve been missing. Check out Billy’s own blog here. 

Welcome to the neighborhood, Billy. Thank you for sharing.

A Writer’s Constant Companion

by Billy Coffey




My fear isn’t the blank page. I see beauty in all that emptiness. The capped pen or the silent keyboard speak to me of possibility. There is a magic to the simple act of sitting down to write. For however long that time may be, I am at peace. I feel at home. I feel as though I belong.


So, no. That isn’t my fear.


Nor is my fear the story I hope to tell. I cannot claim what I write because none of it comes from me, at least not the me I greet in the mirror each morning, the me I live with. I’ve heard there are three people in all of us—there is the people we are, the people we were, and the people we want to be. The me who sits each day to write is always the latter. I can fear who I am and who I was, but never who I want to be.


So that isn’t my fear, either.


It isn’t the characters who bubble up from the meaty stew of experience and imagination, even when those ghosts sneak into my dreams at night and whisper. Not those long months of loneliness when it is just the blank page and me. Those are the times I relish most. I am in the most company when I am alone. I am free.


Nor is there a fear of disaster. That is a given in a writer’s life, the inevitable outcome of beginning a task that can only end in failure. What you craft may be good and noble and true, but it will never be exact. There is a beautiful pain in the unending search for the right word. That is the writer’s curse. He lives by the heart and works by the hand, and between those two lay eternities.


Yet there is a kind of precious safety in knowing that labor is done in secret. The stories and the characters, the paragraphs and sentences, all of those things exist for me alone. I can plant and sow as I will, and even if that crop produces nothing, I am at least a failure in my own eyes rather than everyone else’s so long as I don’t let those stories go.


But that is where the fear is born. Because those stories must be let go. They must be flung out into the world and be read by others. Strangers, most likely, and family, which is worse. What we write is no longer our own at that point, and what is most often left is a sense of nakedness. Writing is much like living in many ways, but unlike it in one important aspect. In life, we are dogged by fears and worries that yield to peace only in death. In writing, the peace often comes first. The fears and worries follow after.


Let me share something with you, this one awful secret. Every writer is taught early on the need to separate himself from the words he writes. A compliment on a novel should not be taken as a compliment to yourself, nor should a criticism of your work be seen as a criticism of you. There are many authors who say they have accepted this truth and live by it. These people are liars.


Because the truth most writers I know live by is that those disapprovals hurt. They can pierce whatever armor we clothe ourselves in, whether it be aloofness or silence or even that small but powerful act of shooing away what criticisms come, as if the wounds they leave were made by gnats rather than arrows.


It takes courage to write, to lay yourself bare and not flinch. Fear becomes your constant companion. I have found its antidote not to be faith or hope, but passion.


You must be addicted to words. You must crave it like air.


You must have to write so badly that you will brave any darkness, even the darkness within you.


And above all, you must understand that great task you are undertaking. Story unites us. It is the golden thread that is wound around every heart, connecting us all. That is why the writer’s purpose is one so fraught with peril. Because the best books do not show us how we are all different, but how we are all the same.


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