TEACHING AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS


I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in the last few weeks. I’ve taken two on-line classes on dialogue and creating scenes and sequels; I’ve read three novels in my genre, studying the dialogue, narrative, exposition and description, as well as searching out the plot points of The Hero’s Journey; I’ve read three books on writing, and am working on a fourth; and I’m line editing my manuscript.

For the most part, the classes and books are saying the same things I heard or read ten years ago, when I started this process.

Have you ever started a new job where the first thing required was to sit down and read a whole book on policies, rules, and requirements? Until you’ve actually worked in the position, learned how things are done, who does what, etc., all that reading means nothing. It might as well be in some unknown language.

When I first started writing, I absorbed books on writing, and advice from pros, like a sponge. I understood the words. And I thought I understood the meaning. Now I know better. Now I know that I had to write a million words before it all clicked. Now as I read about deep third person POV, Scene and Sequel, dialogue that moves the story forward, and sprinkling in description, I understand. Now those words are sort of engraved on my brain.

I understand so much more now than I did ten years ago. And the funny thing is, ten years ago my brain was relatively sharp. I could memorize things, comprehend meanings, etc. Now my poor brain is fried. But thanks to all those manuscripts I wrote and stashed in the closet, I understand so much more about how to write. Now when I read a book on writing, I get it.

Getting it doesn’t necessarily mean that I can use it any easier. It’s still hard to write well. It’s really hard. I would venture a guess that it’s hard for James Patterson, and Thomas Harris and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I think if it was easy to write well, everyone would be doing it. I used to think that those authors who had fifty books under their belts could just churn them out without really working at it. Now I don’t think so. I think sweating bullets is required for every good book that’s written.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re an unpublished writer, you’re going to have to work your tail off to write a good book. You’ll have to agonize over every word, buy and read a dozen good books on writing, read hundreds of books in the genre you want to write in, and revise as many times as it takes to make it a really good book.  And then you’ll have to fight for your position, sending out queries, attending conferences, networking, and putting your face out there, just to get heard.

Writing is not a job for sissies. You have to have a thick skin to get through a hundred crits and fifty rejections.  You have to be willing to go back to the drawing board a dozen times, and wear out a couple of keyboards. You have to sit in the chair even if it hurts, miss dinners you were invited to, look at the screen until your eyes are crossed, and then do it all over again. And even after all that, there’s no guarantee that you will be what is called a successful author.

I have been so overwhelmed by the amount of information and revelation in the past few weeks. Yet I feel like the scales have fallen from my eyes and I’m now able to reach that place I’ve been working so long to get to. I’ve finally learned what a good book is and how to write it. I’ve finally received all the pieces to the puzzle and I can see the edge pieces forming the outside border. I can see the colors blending into something I can recognize. I can see the form of it. And even with all the pieces, it’s still damned hard to write a good book.

The key is to never give up.

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