12/30/15 – Introduction
Whatever your field, one of the most gratifying things is to be asked for advice. You begin at, well, the beginning, and suddenly you look up and you are the beginner no longer, and there are new beginners asking for tips and tricks, wanting to know how you got your start. It’s been an unexpected, but welcome surprise to receive a wealth of messages, emails, and comments in the last few months, asking for writing advice. It’s not in my nature to offer unsolicited opinions, but I’ve realized something, in answering the inquiries that have come my way. It isn’t unsolicited if someone’s asking for it, number one. And number two, I wish there had been more people willing to listen and respond to me when I was starting out. The writing world can be a big, cruel place a lot of the time, and as a truly introverted geek, I always felt displaced amidst the social cliques of the business. I didn’t want to deal with poorly veiled insults and put-downs, be jostled amongst the warring factions. All I wanted to do was talk about writing. So that’s what I’m going to do now, in a new post series here on the blog. I’m going to talk about writing – from the basics, to the intricacies, in what I hope is a common-sense and comprehensive fashion.
I have a secret: I love to teach.
I have another secret: most of my teaching was done in a riding arena, as a horseback riding instructor. But the same principles apply. So I’ll start off by telling you what I always told my equestrian students (more or less):
Writing is a lot of fun. It becomes downright thrilling and addicting once the art really grabs hold of you. But writing is also a lot of hard work. It requires lots of studying, lots of practice, and lots of patience. There is no magic bullet, no way to cheat or fake it. No 10 step process to writing a bestseller. You should write because you love it, not in the hopes that it will earn you fame or fortune.
As a side note, I’m very against trends. I believe in classically-inspired themes, robed in real human experiences, colored with a unique and fresh author voice. I like realistic dialogue, sensory details, precise prose, and proper grammar. If you’re wanting to write a book like so-and-so in order to be popular, you’ve come to the wrong gal.
Now if that didn’t put you off – and I hope it didn’t – I want to invite you to join me for the next few weeks as we talk shop. I thought I’d keep things low-key today, since it’s technically still the holidays, and start us off by sharing a bit about my writing journey, and recommending some reading for you.
You don’t have to have a particular degree or background to become a writer. I’ve got a bachelor’s in business management and I used to run a horse farm. But my love of words began early.
Before I could actually read, I would pretend to, making up stories for my brother whilst holding one of my mom’s romance novels and turning the pages every so often. I was a little obsessed with NeverEnding Story (you’ll learn I obsess over lots of things) and was fascinated by the image of the boy reading from that massive book. It was enchanting to me – that adventures lay ripe for the taking on paper pages. I was reading quite well by five, so Mom took the romance novels away – I would later learn why – and I decided to try my hand at writing my stories down. I found an old notebook in the back of my closet, a while back, and was shocked to find some of my very early, very crappy work, the handwriting and spelling truly horrendous.
For reasons I’m not sure I can explain, I was constantly fascinated with stories. A child’s awareness that I’d always be personally boring? Who knows. Both my parents loved to read, so they encouraged me. I read children’s books, sure – Bill Pete was a particular favorite – but my dad gave me adult books, too. John Carter of Mars, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Lost World, The Hobbit. He loved sci-fi and fantasy, and I ended up loving it too. If it had action, danger, and drama in it, I wanted to devour it.
And I wrote stories. Constantly. And maybe because I was always nerdy and insecure, I judged my writing harshly. I’m very self-critical, and while most people tell me this is a negative trait, I’ve always seen it as a positive. Because I’ve always been able to look dispassionately at my work and know where I failed, where I need to try something new.
Throughout my school years I entered every writing contest offered – and won. I studied novels – took note of spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and pacing. The great classic authors were my instructors. In high school, I took Literature class very seriously. Spent long afternoons poring over the analysis encyclopedias and journals, learning to look at literature with a critical eye. In college, I took hours upon hours of elective English and Lit. You know that first day of school game, where you go around the class, tell everyone your major and what you’re planning to do after college? I always said I planned to be an author. And they always laughed.
When I realized the publishing industry was all about internal politics, money, and social status, I decided to go indie, and I haven’t regretted it since. As exacting and particular as I am, I need that total creative control over my work.
My story is not an exciting one. It is a story of obsession, study, hard work, and the nerve to tell people “no” when they tried to control me. Since the beginning, I’ve been plagiarized, viciously bullied, insulted, and intentionally mislabeled. Because I’m quiet, people have tended to think I don’t have a backbone, or that I’m not confident in my work. They’ve been very wrong, bless their hearts.
Does it sound glamorous yet?
Like I said before, writing takes study, patience, and practice. I love words, I love what they can do, the power of them. And I hope I can share that with you, if you’re game.
I’ll leave you today with a few reading recs, to get you started Two poems which I adore, to get you thinking about words:
Next week we’ll talk about reading critically. Hope you’ll join me!