The Weight

It’s signing season again for me with the release of Hard Country, my first novel in the Tucker Snow series. For an author, this is the time to emerge from the writing cave and look real people in the eye. For some, it’s frightening. For an old classroom teacher and public speaker like me, it’s an opportunity to interact with fans, and I love it.

At my last signing in Northeast Texas, I was approached by a woman somewhere in (I estimate) in her thirties. Her brown hair was cut short, and she had a studious look about her. “Can I talk to you when you’re finished?”

“Sure.” I scribbled my signature on her book and she took a nearby seat to watch as a long line of fans worked their way down the table. A friend who is a retired librarian helped with the books, opening them to the proper page and making sure folks wrote their name on a note so I wouldn’t misspell them.

My events are relaxed, and I spend a lot of time with those who want to talk as I’m signing, so that patient lady sat there for half an hour. Finally it was just her, Librarian, and myself. The room quieted and she pulled her chair closer.

Putting the cap on my pen, I didn’t ask her name, and she didn’t offer it. I leaned back, expecting to hear about her novel under construction. “I bet you’re a writer.”

She looked sheepish and adjusted the dark-rimmed glasses on her nose. “Trying. I’m not published, but I’m in a writing group and I read a lot.” She held up my book. “I’ve been looking forward to your new series. I love world building.”

“How far are you in your manuscript?”

“About thirty thousand words.” She grinned. “Good words, too, all lined up in the right order and everything, but I’ve hit a roadblock.”

“What is it?” I hoped she wouldn’t say she had writers block.

“Well, I’m in a writing group which has helped me a lot. We meet once a month and share what we’ve written. They’ve made some good points and I’ve listened to their suggestions, but I have re-written pages for so long that I’m kind of lost.”

“Write your book.”

She looked startled. “I am.”

“No.” This is where I’ll make some folks upset, but it’s something, I’ve seen over and over. “You’re in a loop, and listening to others instead of plowing ahead with your manuscript. I get that writers groups are beneficial. It’s a great support system. It’s great to talk with others who understand, too, and to get feedback for a while. Keep going every month and maintain that interest that keeps the fires burning, but get your book written and don’t stop until you type, The End.”

“But they’ve had good ideas.”

“I’m sure they have. How many are published?”

“None. They’re good writers.”

“I’m sure they are. Write your book.”

Librarian gave me the eye and I backed off.

The lady leaned forward. “There’s another thing. It’s the big block I was talking about and I’m really worried.”

“What’s that? Writer’s block?”

“No,” She looked uncomfortable. “It’s come up…”

“In your writers group.”

“Yes.” She tilted her head and looked at me like a puppy trying to make sense of the English language. “See, my book is set in the southern Oklahoma territories over a hundred years ago and my protagonist is someone related to me that I heard about when I was little. She was Choctaw. I have other characters that are like me.”

I knew where she was going, but made her say it. “And that is?”

“My group says I’ll get in trouble for cultural appropriation, but it’s historical fiction based on what my grandmother told me, and the research I’ve done.”

“Was she Indian?”


“Is it about your grandmother and what she told your? Someone you knew?”


“Write your book.”

“But I might get in trouble, writing characters who don’t look like me.”

“You won’t until you write your book.”


“I assume you have a large cast of characters, so write about them all. This is a diverse world, and use that to be accurate. Tell a story that’s faithful to the time and write the truth. Use all the honesty you can and don’t worry about what others might say. Concern yourself with what you’re saying in this world you’re building.”

She looked so relieved I thought she was going to cry. “So it’s okay to have characters that aren’t like me.”

“In my opinion, yes. Do your research. You’re using different historical characters who were there, and you’re including them to heighten the richness of the story, so just write your book.”

“You keep saying that. So don’t be afraid.”

“Write the truth.”

“I think I can get back to work now.”

“Go put words on paper and don’t worry about what others might say. We’re artists and our fiction comes from all those around us. Concentrate on what you’re saying and you’ll be just fine. Carry the weight of writing, not the burden of what a very few others might say against your dream.”

She used both hands to shake mine. “Thank you.”

I wasn’t through. “If you have something to say, say it.”

She nodded, and left.

The Librarian gave me a funny look when the lady was gone. “You were kinda harsh there, bud.”

“The truth is sometimes harsh, but she’ll never get it written until she gets back to work.”

That goes for everyone else, too.


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About Reavis Wortham

Two time Spur Award winning author Reavis Z. Wortham pens the Texas Red River historical mystery series, and the high-octane Sonny Hawke contemporary western thrillers. His new Tucker Snow series begins in 2022. The Red River books are set in rural Northeast Texas in the 1960s. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel in a Starred Review, The Rock Hole, as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.” His Sonny Hawke series from Kensington Publishing features Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke and debuted in 2018 with Hawke’s Prey. Hawke’s War, the second in this series won the Spur Award from the Western Writers Association of America as the Best Mass Market Paperback of 2019. He also garnered a second Spur for Hawke’s Target in 2020. A frequent speaker at literary events across the country. Reavis also teaches seminars on mystery and thriller writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to writing conventions, to the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. He frequently speaks to smaller groups, encouraging future authors, and offers dozens of tips for them to avoid the writing pitfalls and hazards he has survived. His most popular talk is entitled, My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters. He has been a newspaper columnist and magazine writer since 1988, penning over 2,000 columns and articles, and has been the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine for the past 25 years. He and his wife, Shana, live in Northeast Texas. All his works are available at your favorite online bookstore or outlet, in all formats. Check out his website at “Burrows, Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas.” —The Dallas Morning News On his most recent Red River novel, Laying Bones: “Captivating. Wortham adroitly balances richly nuanced human drama with two-fisted action, and displays a knack for the striking phrase (‘R.B. was the best drunk driver in the county, and I don’t believe he run off in here on his own’). This entry is sure to win the author new fans.” —Publishers Weekly “Well-drawn characters and clever blending of light and dark kept this reader thinking of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

36 thoughts on “The Weight

  1. Good message, Reavis. I once deleted an entire ms after the second draft because an experienced author told me I had to be careful about writing supporting characters who were a different color than I am (so I wouldn’t offend anyone).

  2. ‘cultural appropriation’? Oh boy. Which in this context, is another way of saying to a writer, stay in your own lane & stick to what you know directly. Part of the fun of writing is learning about all the things you don’t already know. And if I only stuck to what I inherently knew, it would be a boring few stories I’d get written down.

    And I agree with you. The best advice a writer can get is just to write the book. WIth regard to writing groups–when I started out, I did do the “submit pages as I go along writing” thing. Not that I necessarily had any bad experiences doing it that way. But over the years I’ve realized I need to write my book first to cut down on the external opinions. THEN seek out feedback. Because looking back, while I was distracted with a bunch of different feedback, I wasn’t finishing any manuscripts. People ALWAYS have an opinion to share.

    While getting feedback from a writing group after the manuscript is complete could still potentially put you in a tailspin from a bunch of different inputs, in my experience you’re less likely to get discombobulated by a myriad of advice if you’ve already invested all that time in writing the manuscript and its a part of you. You curate writing advice better with a full manuscript under your belt.

    I hope this woman takes your advice to get it done.

    • But over the years I’ve realized I need to write my book first to cut down on the external opinions. THEN seek out feedback.

      That’s the ticket, BK. Write first, fix later. Repeat…

    • I never stay in my own lane. My first novel was a mystery, followed by several more. Then I moved on to thrillers. Now I’m writing traditional westerns and have a weird western horror novel out there.

      I write what I want, and in my own way.

      I like to explore new ideas, and don’t worry about what others are arguing about.

  3. While advice from others can be helpful, trying to merge too many opinions into one coherent theme can result in gridlock or, probably worse, wanting a race horse but getting a camel.

    When tasked with giving a presentation at a technology symposium, my proposal was savaged by the review committee. I considered their points carefully but in the end, ignored their input. The result was a resounding vote by the attendees that my presentation was the best of the 2 day affair.

    I realized the committee’s objective was conformance to established guidelines (number of slides, etc.) My objective was to wow as many of the attendees as possible within one hour.

  4. Being an Okie myself, I addressed the risk of being flamed by woke guardians with the following note in my WIP:

    As a young man, I was trying to distract myself from an epically disastrous romance, reminiscing about better times gone by, when my old mentor cautioned me.
    “Avoid being like the old Indian chief looking into the campfire, stirring it with a stick and seeing his great battles of the past portrayed in the dancing flames. Retelling them to the young braves gathered about. There will be a time for that later. Live your life in the here and now with an intensity as if it were a once in a lifetime opportunity, because that’s exactly what it is.”

    Note: Since I am part American Indian, as was my mentor, and even a tribal chief has counted me a friend since childhood, cultural misappropriation this is not.

  5. Couldn’t agree more. This is one of the things that keeps me from trying traditional publishing: I’m an evil straight white male.

  6. Rev, we must be sipping from the same Kool-Aid jug, Rev. My post next Wednesday steps on similar toes.

    One of the problems with critique groups populated by inexperienced writers is parroting of opinions heard from writing coaches that are then regurgitated as fact. No prologues. Inciting incident by page X. And more recently, trigger warnings and cultural appropriation. Bull fritters. The only voice a writer needs to listen to is the one in his head. Even after seeking and receiving critical input, the writer’s opinion of the work is the only one that matters.

    • I don’t understand formula writing, and that’s what some folks cite as an absolute.

      And trigger warnings. As you said. Meadow muffins. If you’re likely to be triggered by thrillers, violence, bad language, sex, situations, a bad experience in math class smoking, good grief, the show some personal responsibility and don’t read this kinds of book. Snuggle up with a nice Dr. Seuss or the Bobbsey Twins.

      Looking forward to your take in this subject. Safe travels.

  7. “Write the book” is the absolute best advice, Rev. Having been in several critique groups, they can help, but they can also harm. Providing reader reaction can be helpful, but such groups often turn prescriptive with their advice, which can be dicey, depending upon how it’s offered, and the level of craft knowledge and skill the writer offering it has.

    • We had someone who showed up at every critique session with the same chapter, freshly rewritten to comply with directions in the most recent book of writing advice. Everyone told her to stop messing with Chapter 1. Drive on until the end. Eventually, we told her that we wouldn’t look at it again. She stopped coming shortly thereafter.

  8. Wow, am I glad to *hear* this post, Rev.

    I once had an agent tell me to lose the backstory about a character who is a black pastor. His backstory involved growing up in Chicago. She said it was “stereotyping”. I didn’t “lose” it, but I did tweak it a bit.

    He’s still in the story and still black. And I’m releasing the novel next month. (Without the agent.) The thing is, this character told me where he was from and about his growing up years. Who am I to mess with that?

    Happy weekend!

    • Glad you heard the post as it was intended.

      As I’ve said. Follow your story and instinct and the book will follow. Everyone has a suggestion. Listen, weight them, then do what you want (or need) to do.

  9. Exact reason I never joined a critique group. It’s MY book, my story, not theirs. Help with a particular plot point or motivation, sure. But don’t try to tell me what my story is or should be. It’s not their name on the cover. So no critique groups. And yet somehow I’ve managed to get published, repeatedly.

    And yes, yes, YES, if you’ve got that many “triggers” you should definitely stay away from my books!

    Thanks, Rev!

    • I have never belonged to a critique group, though I’m not completely opposed to it at this point in my career.

      The second time I ever offered up an idea (the first was a nonfiction conference disaster I’ll discuss some day) it was to a group of strangers at my first mystery writers conference. I was sitting with a group of attendees in the bar and in the course of a conversation, threw out a WIP that needed some direction.

      It still isn’t finished, but I tinker with it from time to time. It’s a psychological horror piece that features a strange little man who with the contact of others, can see into the past. I didn’t have a good handle on him, and asked for suggestions.

      “Make him Merlin.”

      “Make him an ancient wizard.”

      “Make him an alien in disguise.”

      I thanked them and went to bed.

  10. The beauty of being an indie author is I’m the one who decides what goes and what stays. I value the input from my writing buddies–we’ve been together a LONG time–but 95% of what they catch are the things fresh eyes bring. Can’t follow who’s speaking, didn’t he already have lunch, I don’t understand this reference type stuff. And even if we say, “this bothers me because ….” it’s up to each of us to decide how to use the feedback.

    • You know, I might have mentioned this, but when I was still a green author, I allowed an editor to talk me into cutting a chapter from my second book. She said it was too horrific in a claustrophobic novel that was already too tense.

      I regret it to this day, and if Burrows is ever reprinted, I’m putting back the “python” chapter.

  11. Great story!

    Even experienced writers can forget this – thanks for today’s reminder.

    Also, the longer you stay away from YOUR FICTION, the harder it is to get going again, so do something today, even if it’s little, to make tomorrow a bit easier.

    • Thanks for your support, Alicia!

      Another thing I should have mentioned in the post is that I was listening to The Weight by The Band when I wrote it. The lyrics fit perfectly with what I was trying to explain, likely because the song is about the burdens we carry, and the impossibility of sainthood. Our job isn’t to carry the weight of others as far as their suggestions, insecurities, or personal prejudices are concerned, but to make it lighter through our form of entertainment.

      Now, I’ll get off my soapbox.

      • I don’t know if you remember the film, Sometimes a Great Notion, with Paul Newman and a contentious logging family in Oregon fighting the local loggers.

        Toward the very end, Paul Newman manages to break up a gigantic logjam, and let the logs start floating down the river – and that’s what your words did today to mine.

        And I may quote you about burdens, and ‘the impossibility of sainthood.’

        I needed a few more pieces of understanding of how LIMBO concludes my mainstream literary trilogy – so soapbox away, as far as I’m concerned. I was looking for a lever – I found dynamite.

        The rest is just work. Thanks.

  12. I like your “Write your book.”
    In the Cleveland Writers Group that I attend (irregularly since the pandemic started), there’s an experienced writer whose mantra–that we all recite together now–is “Finish the damn thing.”

  13. I don’t usually discuss work in progress, so I tend to finish a book before reading chapters to my workshop.

    There’s definitely a time to be harsh.

    “Cultural appropriation” is woke garbage. What’s diversity for, otherwise?

    • We just need to write our stories. That’s what readers ask. The irritating people can just go jump off a cliff, as we said when we’re kids. Thanks for weighing in!

  14. I’m not a writer, but an avid reader. I read for enjoyment, to gain new viewpoints and knowledge and to escape into another world. The diversity of characters and their experiences is what draws me in. I think the best writers look at the world around them and share their history of experiences, which allows readers to dive into their imaginations. Do as Reavis said, write, write, write, I will continue to read and read some more.

    • Good morning, Rita!

      We all read to be entertained, and for escape. I don’t want a stale, one dimensional story. I want a cast of characters to inhabit my mind. That’s why there are so many moving parts in my books, and so many people. If I was restricting what people I could include, I’d quit.

      I’m writing away, and will continue to inhabit the minds of all my fictional playmates, both good and bad, blue and green, male and female, because I’ve either met or heard about them throughout my life.

      Come see me at a signing soon!

  15. Pingback: The Weight – Fix Yourself

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