Monthly Archives: March 2011
I had a discussion with a writer friend of mine. We tend to be polar opposites in many ways and the pursuit of writing is no different. We both have the big dream, publishing regularly and successfully enough to kick the dreaded day job to the curb. But that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.
Our main point of contention is whether or not reading books on craft is really worth the effort. My answer is an enthusiastic yes. Hers is a skeptical not so much. She gave me the side eye when I told her that I read craft books so that I know what I’m doing. She argued that those same books hinder creativity.
I can see her point. There are so many writing rules that one can become overwhelmed. And then there is that tendency to accept all those rules as absolutes (which they aren’t). Or the desire to adopt some expert’s writing process because it worked for them. They made x amount of dollars doing it that way. It should work for me too. Right? Right?
Pitfalls, yes, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. How much creativity does one need to suck at writing? Or to be mediocre? Creativity cannot be short-circuited by studying actual technique. It can only be enhanced by it. All the imagination and creativity in the world is useless without the skill to effectively tell a story.
When I was pursuing an MFA, one of my professors told me to “stop resting on talent, and study your craft.” I hated her for it at the time. I felt picked on, but now I know better. It was the most sincere and most useful writing advice I’ve gotten to date. It’s not enough to be talented. It’s not enough to be creative. It’s a publishing jungle out there!
Talent+ Creativity-Skill= A Short-lived writing career (if it ever gets off the ground)
Sure, there are other ways to learn craft. However, there are few that are so readily available , fewer as cheap (break out your library card), and none so adaptable to your own pace. I’m lazy. I don’t want to spend hours toiling away, trying to figure out on my own what I could have learned easily from picking up a book or two. I’m grateful for the kick in pants that professor gave me. Otherwise, I’d still be clinging to my delusions of grandeur.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Okay, so this week I devoured the first two books in Mary Janice Davidson’s Betsy Taylor series. I’m officially a fan!
Undead and Unwed was absolutely hilarious. I admit that I hated the main character at first. Betsy Taylor is vain, self-absorbed, and more than a little ditzy. The girl makes you question her intelligence at nearly every turn. She is easy to hate, but give her more than a cursory glance and you’ll find some redeeming qualities. Betsy is also compassionate, observant, and smart-mouthed. She speaks her mind. You’ve got to love a woman who knows who she is and is unapologetic about it. Betsy Taylor is no shrinking violet for sure.
Of course, Mary Janice Davidson puts our little Betsy through the wringer (as every author should manhandle their protagonists). Betsy loses her job, dies in a car accident, and wakes up super thirsty. She can’t keep down any of her favorite foods. Some of her family friends are happy to see her and others…well not so much. To make matters worse, she may in fact be the long foretold vampire queen, a possibility that comes with its own mixed bag of goodies. All in all, a quick and entertaining read.
Book two, Undead and Unemployed, was a strong follow-up. I won’t get into the details here. I’ll just say that Betsy continues to make me shake my head and laugh out loud. She’s still totally annoying, but thoroughly interesting. Nothing but respect for MJD. There is a special place in author heaven for writers who make the unlikable characters relatable, and therefore readable. Not such an easy task.
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” -Walt Disney
I got this quote in an email this week and it has stuck with me. I’d like to think that I have the courage to pursue writing with everything I have. Though sometimes I wonder.
Last night, I told my best friend that she was a better writer than me. Today, I had to question that. Is that really an honest assessment? Or is that just negative self-talk meant to make me turn from my path? Sure, she has some skills that I have yet to acquire. But I have my own strengths as well. So, I have to go with the latter. It was fear talking. Fear that my writing sucks. Fear that I’m wasting my time. Fear that this is as good as it gets, and I wont’ get any better.
Fear can talk you out of something before you even get started. It happens to me all the time. It takes skill to distinguish your own voice from that of your inner fraidy cat. It’s a good thing that the absence of fear isn’t required for the presence of courage.
I believe that Walt was absolutely right. So, I’m moving forward fear or no fear.
How does fear show up in your writing life?
I’ve never really been one to reread books,even when I LOVE them. There are copies of books that have been sitting on my shelves for years. I look at their spines, and the memories of reading them make me smile: Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, too many others to name. I’ve just never had the urge to crack the covers of these books again.
This week I found myself rereading a book I read fairly recently, Laurell K. Hamilton’s A Kiss of Shadows. I’d checked it out for my roomie, but she never got to it. I don’t know if it was the looming deadline or the fact that I don’t own the book that made me go there. But I did. Two days before it was due back at the library, I found myself sucked back into Merry Gentry’s world. It was almost as if I hadn’t been there before. The juicy parts were still juicy. The funny parts were still funny. And my mouth still fell open at the jaw-dropping parts. Good times.
Still, there were quite a few new experiences as well. I was able to give the book a much closer reading. Of course, there were things that I completely missed the first time. But I was more intrigued by looking at the writing from a technical standpoint. I got a much better grasp on how LKH weaves description and backstory into her work. I became aware of the subtle, but effective foreshadowing that was lost during the first read. And then there was steady building of characters without slowing the pace of the story. All good lessons. Hmm, I’m thinking I should break open some other oldie-but-goodies and see what I can learn.