Advice to Writers: Just Do It


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"I've entered four times and won twice," says Memphian Bradley Harris, who, for a living, advises writers on writing. "That's a good average in the major leagues."

Yes, it is. Harris is winner of the 2012 3-Day Novel Contest, which you can read about in this week's Flyer. But there's more to it. In Harris' words:

"I had no thought of winning. I'd won once, back in 1998, and that felt like a fluke. So I put it out of my mind. My purpose in entering the contest was just to have a book-length manuscript, so I could expand it.

"When Melissa Edwards from the contest called me, I was with a writing client. I said to Melissa, 'Let me call you back.' Melissa said, 'Well, you won the 3-Day Novel Contest.' I thought, no, you're wrong. It struck me as a silly possibility. I was so flabbergasted that I had to ask her what text I'd sent. I felt for a few moments like a fool.

"The client I was with when Melissa called was coincidentally the same client who'd come in the day I sent the manuscript to the contest. The client that day had said, 'You done?' 'Yep.' 'Is it any good?' 'Nope.' 'You gonna send it in?' I heaved a sigh and said, 'Yeah, I guess. I paid the money, might as well.'

"So indeed I sent it in, and there you have it: Lightning strikes twice."

Your won the contest for a novella called "Thorazine Beach." Intriguing title. What's it about?
Bradley Harris: It concerns a guy in Memphis named Jack Minyard. He's, like me, feeling his age. He's overweight. And he's managed to get involved in a big fuss at the security agency he worked for. Now he's trying to resurrect his career, so he has kind of a stringer job as a sometime contract investigator. He has a friend on the police force, fairly high-ranking, who himself is busy investigating some pretty nasty business. Minyard gets sucked into it and at the end realizes some things about himself: who he is, who he isn't, how the world works, and how it's possible to have faith in things even when stuff is all screwed up. I like to think I get along better than my guy Jack does, but that remains to be seen.

This 3-Day Novel Contest sounds like a useful exercise, win or lose, for a writer.
Oh yes. I'd encourage any writer to enter. There is no better way than to write fast, and that contest is an opportunity to test your mettle.

Writing creatively is essentially an "extrusive" process. Forgive the analogy, but there it is. Stuff comes out in the order you "ate" it, and what you have inside — your writerly intestines, if you will — is stuff that's backed up and needs to come out one way or another. What you have to do is get it out, and that means moving quickly.

The 72-hour contest time limit sounds like it could drive a writer crazy.
There's a nice balance between sanity and insanity in writing, and writing fiction isn't a wholly sane thing to do. Think about it: You sit down and type or hand-write a lot of false sentences in a row. That's what writing fiction is: Each and every sentence is a little lie. That's not a wholly normal thing for a person to do, but that's where the insanity needs to end. You have to be whole and sane enough to keep doing it and bring your best sense of craftsmanship to it.

On the subject of craftsmanship, tell me about your consulting business, Goodbook Communications Group.
I mostly work with individual writers, and my mode of editing is not to shoot spelling mistakes. If that's all you need, use spell-checker or hire somebody cheaper than me. I work hard with my writers — work them hard too. My aim is to become eventually unnecessary to them. The art of writing is the biggest kick I know.

And tell me more about you.
I'm from Calgary, Alberta, Canada — cowboy country — and came to Memphis to do an MFA in creative writing at the University of Memphis. I'd applied to 12 American graduate schools, six in the North — they all said, "Nah" — and six in the South — they all said, "Come on down!"

You've got more novels in the works?
I'm actively working on two. One is science fiction. The other is the third novel in my Jack Minyard series, called Six Flags Over Jesus, and it opens with a device I've never seen before. Imagine you're at an enormous Baptist church in northeast Memphis — not that I'll be identifying this as an enormous Baptist church in northeast Memphis. Now imagine the top sliding off the baptismal pool, and 20,000 onlookers are treated to the sight of a body floating face-upward.

That novel has to do with my ambitions. I'm hoping a New York agent or publisher finds out about the 3-Day Novel Contest and says, "Hey, Brad, why don't you send us something?"

You're also district governor of Toastmasters International. What exactly is Toastmasters?
Toastmasters has helped, on a nonprofit basis, more that 4 million people, professionals and nonprofessionals, improve their communication and leadership skills in 116 countries, 14,000-plus clubs. Nobody makes a cent. We're best known for giving speeches, and the essence of Toastmasters is endurance: Just keep doing it and doing it. Keep getting feedback. Keep learning, and press on.

That's my attitude about writing, too. I'm past needing permission to write. I just do.

For some basics on the 2013 3-Day Novel Contest, rules and regulations, FAQs, etc., check the contest website.

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