Learning the Craft of Writing

There’s a quote attributed to the American writer, David Gerrold, that resonates with me on many levels: “Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.”

My life, in brief, before the worms eat me.

Act One

Life as a Foster Child: The Formative Years, Abandoned among Strangers, and Early Stories.

Act Two

The Struggle to Grow Up: Battling Fear and Insecurity. Finding Love and Learning to Write Short Stories.

Act Three

The Age of Maturity: Discovering Stability, Linking to Mentors Foreign and Domestic, Learning the Craft of Writing and Experiencing Moments of Unconfined Joy.

That’s all the backstory a reader needs to learn about me before he or she starts glazing over. Quite right, too. The above is just to illustrate one of the lessons I’ve learnt, this past year, about writing a novel. You don’t need to know every detail of my life to be able to understand what follows. I’ve added a few snippets to illuminate a point, but that’s all.

I started writing my current WIP (and all short stories before) as a pantser – because I didn’t know there was another way. I would sit and type until I ran out of words, or my husband would ask plaintively if he should get himself something to eat. Bursts of writing interspersed with long non-productive spells meant that I wasn’t so much writing a novel as creating a huge, incoherent, untamed beast that was getting the better of me.

While I was thrashing about with this unwieldy monster and casting around for anything that might help me get the wretched story out of my head and onto a computer-generated page, I came across a website called Helping Writers Become Authors. K.M.Weiland, whose site it is, became one of my mentors from that moment. That was about a year ago.

At first, I was daunted by just how much I had to learn about the craft of writing a novel (added to which I’ve always learnt slowly, and I’m no longer a youngling). Fortunately, K.M.Weiland has written several best-selling books on this very subject. I have them all; they’re my constant companions.

Something surprising happened when I started studying these books and completing the exercises therein. I had forgotten how much I loved learning. The last time my cognitive and language functions were so rigorously put to the test, was when I learnt British Sign Language so I could work within the Deaf community. I have clear memories of just how difficult it was, and just how rewarding. These new daily studies were and are mentally and emotionally invigorating. At the end of each day, I’ve learnt a little more.

I’m applying everything I’m learning to my WIP, a crime fiction novel. Using “How To” books on this fledgling “Who Dunnit”.

Needless to say, the untamed beast along with the pantser who created it are no more. They were quietly put out of their misery.

Brainstormed Idea, Characters, Premise, Outline, Plot, Structure, First Draft…these are my main watchwords now. I’ve learnt that creating character arcs interwoven with the story structure is helping me to write a more powerful, cohesive outline and this in turn will lead to a better first draft.

Where do you get your ideas from? asked a friend a couple of days ago. Oh, they’ve been cooking for a while now, I replied vaguely, but honestly. The expression in her eyes told me she didn’t really want to know, she was just making conversation. The ideas have, indeed, been cooking for a while. All my life. Everything I’ve experienced, all the people I’ve met – good, bad, and indifferent – have been cognitively processed, filtered, distilled and transformed by the decades I’ve existed on this planet.

None of the characters in my novel are life drawings of the real people who have drifted (and continue to drift) in and out of my life. But the impact of their presence, their behaviours, the casual, unthinking cruelties I experienced as a child, the indifference of those I met through my confused, socially dysfunctional young adult years, the extraordinary tolerance and love from those who have surrounded and sustained me in my adult years – all these personalities inform my fictional characters in one way or another.

My dream for the immediate future is not for some five star publishing house to beat at my door and beg me to allow them the inestimable honour of publishing my novel – and insisting I accept a gazillion dollars for the privilege. I’m not sure if that would even happen in a fairy tale. My dream is more modest and more challenging than that.

My dream is to finish the first of what I’m sure will be many drafts of this, my very first novel. Before the worms eat me.

K.M.Weiland’s website: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com

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