Nature AND Nurture

May 28, 2019

I started writing stories as a child. My first story was about Bennie the Green Bean, and I decided I was going to write children’s books. I eventually majored in Journalism in college. At that time, it never occurred to me to try and make a living writing fiction.

green beans
Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

After more than 20 years working in communications, marketing and public relations, I decided it was time. Time to write my novel. I wasn’t getting any younger. Plus, I had honed my writing skills for years, so knew I could whip out great novels in no time. Ha.

After writing a few days, I began pulling books off my shelves and analyzing them. How much description? How much dialogue? How many characters? Where do you put in the backstory? How do you start the backstory? How many words are in a novel?

 These are just 2 of the many bookshelves in my home office.

I was shocked that I didn’t inherently know these things; after all, I had been a voracious reader my entire life. This was harder than I had expected.

As I wrote, I had more questions. How long are chapters? What point of view should I use? Can I write male characters convincingly? I sought out advice and kept writing.

A few other writers attempting to transition from business writing to fiction writing scoff at my advice-seeking and learning the craft of fiction writing. They’re not going to classes or reading books on craft. They’re writing. They say that’s enough. And maybe it is for them.

Other friends expect me to churn out novels because I’ve been writing my whole life. I know they don’t understand it either. “You’re such a good writer,” they say. “How come your books aren’t published yet?”

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I’ve attended writing conferences, devoured books on plot, description, character development, and more. Recently, I read a book on how to write about monsters by Philip Athans.

Books and conferences are my candy. I soak up the advice and fully engage in the conference sessions, determining what works for me. My friends laugh and their eyes glaze over as I explain the elements that go into creating a scene or writing dialogue. I enthuse endlessly about what I’m learning. I can’t get enough of this stuff. My fiction writing is so much better than when I started out a few years ago. It’s hard to believe how much I’ve learned.

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One of the books I read early in this journey is “On Writing” by Stephen King. He mentions that he is always reading a book on craft. What? Stephen King? I think he is a wonderful storyteller and a gifted writer. When I read that, I thought, “I should do that, too!” That book was published in 2000, so I don’t know if he still does that.

Writing speeches, articles, white papers, strategic plans, press releases and web site copy is not the same as writing fiction. That’s not to say all those years writing don’t help me now; they do, in so many ways.

Of course, I wish I could have sat down and written the great American novel without advice, books, classes or conferences, but it didn’t happen. That’s okay. I’m slowly finding my way. This is an unexpected journey and I am enjoying the ride.

Do you think writing is a talent or a learned skill? What writing resources have you found to help you in your journey?

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Sketch Me a Story

April 30, 2019

I write longhand. Yes, with a sketch pad and a rollerball pen. When I get into my zone and write thousands of words at a sitting, I get callouses from the pen rubbing on my fingers.

Typewriters were once the writing instrument of choice. Think Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Tennessee Williams. Even today, some writers choose a typewriter rather than a computer. Think Larry McMurtry, poet Maya Angelou, Danielle Steel. (That’s not me in the picture. I think it’s Agatha Christie.)

typewriter writer

Although I’ve never used a typewriter for writing fiction, the idea prompts feeling of nostalgia — writers long ago, solitarily pounding out stories.

When I began delving into writing fiction a few years ago, I wrote on my laptop. The advice I googled online and found in books about the craft of writing went something like this: “Write as fast as you can, get it all out, and then go back and fix it.” Sounded right.

I rose every morning at 5 am, another suggestion I found. I’m a night owl, yet I groggily sat at my laptop and spewed out the words to my story, all the while devouring online writing advice, most of which made no sense to me.

I wrote ferociously, and it took me 3 months to finish my novel. Then, per more advice, I set it aside for a month. What a sense of accomplishment. I had written a novel! It was 120,000 words.

nightowl

Photo by Quentin Dr on Unsplash

When I brought it back out to “fix it”, I couldn’t. It was crap. The writing was awful, and it needed to be completely rewritten. Spewing didn’t work; I needed to figure out what did work.

The early mornings, unfortunately, remain the best time for me to write. I wake up thinking about my characters and before the day’s activities and distractions start, I sit down and write.

I also recognized that I needed to write more slowly, more thoughtfully. As I looked over my writing, I kept going back to a scene I had written one evening while laying in bed watching TV. I had been compelled to write, so I grabbed a notebook – an actual paper notebook – and pen, and I wrote. It was good, and it made me realize that I feel more creative with a pen and pad of paper. I write thoughtfully, creatively, slowly. I contemplate each sentence and each word.blank sketchpad

In what I can only label divine inspiration, I bought a sketchpad. No margins, no lines, just blank paper. This, too, makes me feel creative. After all, writing is a craft, something it took a while for me to understand.

When I took my first cross-country, overnight train trip last year, I went armed with my writing sketchbook. As we traveled through the Rocky Mountains, I sat in the observation car and attempted to capture the view and the feelings the scenery invoked. I took pictures, but mostly I wrote:

I wake as the day brightens. The train’s motion, coupled with the choo-choo sound of the wheels, had rocked me to sleep like a newborn in a cradle. Out the window of our sleeper I see snow-covered foothills of the Southern Rocky Mountains. Thick clouds hang low and I hope for snow.

Foothills give way to boulder-strewn mountainsides while antelope graze in the plain, the white tufts on their heads the giveaway to this city girl. Boulders and smaller rocks sit on top of and next to each other, reminding me of totem poles and Indians and the Wild West. Higher mountains in the distance show gradations of browns and oranges, and rivers and tributaries traverse the countryside.

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We cross into Colorado, another mountain range filling the windows, this one with rock walls going straight up and topped with copious pine trees. I can only imagine the size of the pine cones.

Snow begins to fall, coating the mountainsides and rail side scrubs. The wind picks up, creating eddies of snow, simulating tornadoes, swirling, swirling and breaking apart. The Colorado River is frozen here, having transformed from running rapids.

We cross into Iowa and see endless fields of corn and grain, the stalks swaying in the wind. Field after field, neat row after neat row, acres and acres of crops. The phrase “amber waves of grain” repeats in my mind, and I’m grateful we haven’t paved the entire countryside and built cities.

I’m going on another train trip in a couple months. The first things on my packing list: A 200-page sketch pad and 4 rollerball pens, black.

Tell me what writing method you use – Laptop? Typewriter? Pencil and paper? I’m curious if other writers have experimented with different tools. What facilitates your creativity?

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