“I can think of one hundred writers who are better than me,” says Bill Myers, whose books and videos have sold more than five million copies and who recently released another book, The Seeing. But, in contrast to Myers, those people just talk about writing; they don’t actually write. “You’re a writer if you write,” he says.
Bill Myers was born in Seattle, Washington, on September 9, 1953, and grew up in the Cascade Mountains. He did not have a difficult time breaking into the market at all. “I picked up the phone. Someone asked if I’d write for him and I said yes.” His first writing job was for a T.V. series called “West Brook Hospital” in the mid-1970s. Myers’ first book was published in 1977, and he just recently sent his 101st book to the publishers.
But those are not his only successes. Myers’ novel The Wager was released as a movie on August 3, 2007. He says the most exciting part of that process was “visiting the set and seeing sixty people running about making something that you just imagined in your head all by yourself…seeing sixty people getting on that creative train and moving in the same direction.” However, the process does have some challenges. “You can go much deeper with a book. A film is like CliffNotes or comic books. Novels dig deep and explore nuances… [In a movie] the delicate brush strokes have to be steam-rolled. It’s just a difference in the media,” Myers says. “But I’m not complaining.”
How does he do it? “Discipline is the number one thing. I’m a writer. I have to write,” says Myers. “You just do it. You do it, you do it, you do it. Eventually, you stop failing.” He is successful because he is disciplined about making writing his job: “There is always a good excuse not to write, but I have to say, ‘This is my job.’ Sure, it’s hard work, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.” With the best-selling success of such children’s book series of McGee and Me (books, movies, and ABC-TV specials) and Wally MacDougal, Myers gets mobbed by kids when he makes personal appearances at elementary and middle schools across America.
“The beautiful thing about being a writer is you’re always absorbing,” Myers says. “You could go dead and not have anything to fill the well. But if you’re alive -- the inspiration is non-stop, if you turn on the switch. You’re absorbing and absorbing, and living a lot richer life than your friends who are just putting in the time. You have to work at it so that you don’t become numb.”
Because he is constantly absorbing, Myers has unlimited inspiration for plot ideas. “Everything inspires,” he says, from reading books, to watching movies, to interacting with people. He especially loves the inspiration he gets from verses of Scripture. “They are incredibly layered and intricate and observant. For the most part I walk away going, ‘Wow. What perceptions.’”
The foundation for all of Myers’ plots is the characters he creates. “The plot should come out of the characters,” he says, especially in a novel. “For the audience to invest that amount of time, you better have some character that people care about or feel they know.” To develop his characters, he asks himself a few questions: “What is entertaining about them? What are their foibles? What are their weaknesses? What are they most afraid of? What does this character want? What is this character’s limp?”
Another thing that adds to his plots is the research Myers does for each of his novels. “Research is one of the most enjoyable things,” he says. “Anyone will want to talk to you if you tell them, ‘I’m a writer and I want to write about what you do.’ I’ve gotten access to genetic labs and other places of high priority that I shouldn’t have been in.” Through his research, he has gotten to spend a day in the cell of a serial killer. He has toured paranormal psychology labs as well. “I just get smarter,” he says.
To put his ideas, characters, and research down onto the page, Myers first finds a theme of interest and then develops characters who support that theme. When he has those in place, he constructs a plot web. From the web, he writes a detailed outline for his book, which he generally follows eighty to ninety percent of the time. “The hardest thing, the thing I hate the most and the thing I can barely endure, is the day of fasting I do before I begin each novel,” he says. “I get cranky, I get headachy, sometimes I cheat with an orange, and in all except a couple of cases, I wonder what on Earth good it could possibly do. Still, I do it because I know it's important.” Then he starts writing with a clear head.
Bill Myers typically writes four pages a day for five days a week, using the sixth day as a catch-up day. He divides each day into three segments, spending the first two hours rewriting what he wrote the day before, then writing an additional three or four pages, and finally rewriting what he rewrote the day before. He writes seven drafts of a novel before the editors see it, another draft after they give him feedback, and a final draft after proofing the novel for a last time -- making for a total of nine drafts before a novel is finished. “Each time is kind of easier,” he says, “more fun and less aggravating.”
Myers’ life has never been about writing but about service. In fact, he had thought he was going to be a dentist until he made the commitment to say yes to God all the time. “I think that people make too big a deal about writing. The thing about life is this business about saying yes to God. That’s what’s rewarding,” he says. “Writing is ok, but if you say yes to God, suddenly you’re engaged in living the type of life He promised. A lot of my friends are just sitting in the stands, while God’s saying, ‘You want to come down and play?’…There are a few of us who are zany enough to go out onto the field and say, ‘Ok, God, we’ll play,’ not because we’re smarter or better players. Now, making a commitment to saying yes to God all the time -- that’s a life worth talking about. That’s where the adventure is.”
“I want to draw the reader closer to the heart of Christ,” Bill Myers says. “Money, fame, popularity, and the concept of getting published are just fun for a day. In the end, they’re of passing value. To have someone’s life changed, now that’s a keeper.”
Becoming a writer like Bill Myers takes disciple. “Take an hour out of your life and write,” he says. “Write and write and write, and keep going.” But he also adds, “The beautiful thing about writing is you never reach perfection.”
Jenni Ritschard is a professional writing major at Taylor University Fort Wayne and a freelance writer whose writings have appeared in The Aboite Independent, Church Libraries, and Christian Book Previews.