Posts Tagged 'writing'

I’m back, sort of

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had more blog ideas than I’ve known what to do with. The only trouble? They are not “publishing” or “writing” posts. They are posts about creativity, the brain, education reform and parenting an ADHD kid with a language-based learning disability.

These topics may not seem to have anything to do with writing or romance novels, which is what I wrote about before my hiatus, but they are tangentially related, at least in my mind. Did you know that language processing problems can mean problems retrieving the right word, relaying recent events or adding context to pictures or actions? These are the same skills writers use every day. I don’t think I realized just how essential storytelling is to daily life until I began to scratch the surface of my son’s language issues.

And did you know that your brain can be rewired, or hacked, to allow you to be more creative? And that reading about an experience can activate the brain in the same way as encountering that experience in real life? (When you read a book, your mind IS going to another place!)

So while I may be writing about books, reading and writing sometimes, this blog is now about a whole lot more. Fair warning.

How to write well, inspired by Richard Bausch and Shania Twain

Can good writing be taught?

I don’t think so.

But I do think good writing can be learned.

Just like singing.

A couple of weeks ago, I read an essay in The Atlantic’s fiction supplement about the silliness of how-to manuals for writing while I watched Shania Twain mentor American Idol contestants.

Not surprisingly, the essay got me thinking. Very surprisingly, so did Shania Twain.

Richard Bausch said,

If you really want to learn how to write [then] read…One doesn’t write out of some intellectual plan or strategy; one writes from a kind of beautiful necessity born of the reading of thousands of good stories…

Shania said something to the effect of, “To make it, you can’t just be a great voice, you have to feel it.”

Let’s ignore for a moment how the market rewards timely topics and strong platforms. Those who are great writers, great storytellers, are more than marketing.

And learning to write, like learning to sing, begins with more than talent and desire, more than “a great voice.” It begins with “feeling it.” It begins with a deep, consuming love for the source material.

So, the first and most important step to becoming a good writer is immersion.

Wallow in stories and language, in song and melody. Luxuriate. Find what you love, what you hate, what bores you to tears. Read it all and keep reading. I agree with Bausch. Writers never really move on from this step. Reading is the foundation for writing. Reading is writing’s raison d’être.

Second, practice.

Write to sound just like those who swept you away with their tales, or phrasing, or high notes. Write to sound nothing like them. Write everything, from recipes to essays, novellas to poems. Realize that craft and artistry take hours, days and years of practice.

Third, hone your voice.

Make each word and rhythm and story your own. Riff a little. Or a lot.

Fourth, embrace your constructive critics.

They will tell you what you need to hear, even when it hurts. Peers, judges, readers, editors…even, maybe, one or two really good books about reading and writing. Listen to the advice that resonates, drop the rest of it. Then go back to the first three steps.

Finally, perform.

Let yourself feel it. Read it back. Does the rhythm and the story flow? Does it make your audience feel it, too? Put your writing into a reader’s hands and see what happens.

Most likely, a writer’s reward won’t be money or fame. The reward will be knowing your writing is part of the backbone, the foundation. Your work is there, in a reader’s library, along with Shakespeare, waiting to sweep someone away.

Saturday reading

Yesterday, I read a manuscript I couldn’t put down. It wasn’t an acquisition of mine; it was a draft that a co-worker urged me to read.

It was paranormal, with a romance. It had problems, she said, but she wanted another opinion.

My opinion? The motivations and character arcs were all over the place. Some plot elements were too conveniently tied up. A couple of times, I rolled my eyes at the heroine’s decisions and her reasoning. The secondary characters were underdeveloped.

And yet…

I still found the story compulsively readable. I wanted to know what happened. When I had to put the pages down to take Charlie to a birthday party, I thought about them the entire time.

What would the heroine do? What had happened to the women before her? Who would she love? How would it end?

How could a book with so many problems still have that good-book magic?

I’ve been thinking about it all morning. These are the three things I think made the difference:

1.) The first three chapters were well-written. The characters were interesting, the pacing was just right, the premise was established and there was a hint of suspense. The author set up a few intriguing questions right away, and because those chapters read so smoothly, I really wanted to know the answers. I was, in effect, hooked, and willing to give the author leeway when things went south.

2.) The heroine. She began the story in a very difficult situation and only reluctantly accepted her call to adventure. I empathized with her. I liked her. I wanted to find out how–if–she beat the odds.

3.) The author’s voice. Conversational in a Twilight way, that voice pulled me in. It suited the genre and my expectations, and made me feel like I was hearing the tale from a trusted friend.

This first one isn’t even published, and I wish I had the sequel already.


DISCLAIMER

I work as an editor at Harlequin, but the posts on this site are all mine and don’t represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.
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Stacy Boyd's book recommendations, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

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