Sunday, December 18, 2011
How I Learned to Write
If I may quote loosely Stephen King in his great book, On Writing. There are bad writers, competent writers, good writers, and great writers. You can’t make a great writer out of a good writer and you can’t make a competent writer out of a bad writer.
But you can make a good writer out of a competent writer.
And the way to do that, King suggests, is to learn the craft.
King also says, that to be a writer you have to do two things: you have to write and you have to read.
I’ll echo Rebecca here and say that perhaps the first thing a beginning or wanna-be writer must to is to read.
I have always been a reader, from a family of readers. When my children were small I decided one year to write them an individual Christmas story, with them as the characters. I did so, and was very pleased with my efforts so I thought I’d try my hand at writing for children.
I went to the local community college and signed up for a writing course. I also went to a meeting of a national children’s authors group. I decided almost instantly I didn’t want to write for children – mainly because I didn’t like the community. Mostly women who said things like “When we were posted to Paris I decided to write a book to keep me busy.” (Caveat: I am sure there are very nice children’s writers – I’ve met some of them – I just didn’t meet them that day). However, I was liking this writing thing and liking the course I was taking, so I decided to try an adult book. I read mysteries most of all, so that seemed like a logical fit.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I continued to take courses at community college (a shout out here to two of my best teachers: Sylvia McNicoll and Lynda Simmonds.)
Taking courses is learning the craft of the business. You wouldn’t try to be a doctor without learning what’s a normal body temperature or how to wield a stethoscope, would you? A good writing course will teach you about stuff like using effective dialogue (remember: good dialogue must appear completely natural, while not being at all natural), how to show-not-tell (critically important) as well as some grammar basics (think it doesn’t matter, it does). A good course will also give you feedback on your writing, from the teacher and from your classmates as well as give you contact you might enjoy having and teach you a bit about the publishing industry and how it works.
And, most of all, I continued to read.
I was totally dismayed a while ago when I was on a panel at a conference talking about what we read, to find that I was the only panellist who reads crime novels.
How can you write if you don’t know what people these days want to read?
How can you write something you wouldn’t read yourself?
But more than that, reading is sort of like keeping your skills up to date. Read: see what works, see what doesn’t work. How does the book create tension? What’s interesting about these characters?
The third thing I did was to join my local writing community. Sisters in Crime at first and then Crime Writers of Canada. Writing is a community and its important to be a part of it (one of the best things about being a writer as well.)
Speaking of reading: I have a new book coming out in April titled A Winter Kill, that’s something different. It’s a Rapid Reads book from Orca Publishers. It’s a short, fast read (about 15,000 words) specifically aimed at reluctant readers. It’s an adult book, with adult language and adult themes for those who can’t read well or who don’t have time to read much. Above is a peek at the cover.