When Pat so graciously invited me to be a guest on her blog, I was excited and nervous. After all, she is an amazing storyteller and I’m a bit of a hack. I’m a mere neophyte in the writing world. So, I began to think about what I could write that may help those fellow novices out there, who are floundering for steady shore.
Like much of what I’ve done in my life, when I started writing (or at least writing with the end-goal of being published in mind) I believed that all I needed was to study all of the books, manuals, and how-to guides I could find. Surely, filling my brain with reference material would elicit the desired result. Like other skills I’d acquired, it was just a matter of following rules and proven methods. And to some extent, that is true. There’s no limit to the varied resources that exist for writers. From writing dynamic dialogues, to outlining solid plot structure, to marketing your self to agents, it’s all out there in unending waves of information.
When I started with this “book learning,” I could see a long road stretching out before me. An overwhelmingly long road. Contradictory advice and constantly changing methods from differing ‘experts,’ and the fast pace of the current information age made my head swim.
All of the inspiration and function were tripping my brain up. I would go into a blank page with ideas of proper sentence structure, character and plot arcs, and deadly sins of first time novelists rushing into the small spaces of my creativity, damming it up like sticks in a creek.
Then one day, I made myself a promise to just write one page a day. The content didn’t matter. Whether it was a journal entry, a poem, an essay, or a first chapter, was of little consequence. It just had to be words. Not even well written ones. I dared to be bad at it. And I met that dare on several occasions. But occasionally, without the constructs and the preplanning, something beautiful would happen.
For all the form and function that is necessary, we must never forget that writing is also an art. It takes a certain amount of intuition, of daydreaming willfulness to cast a story onto the page. It takes gumption and fearlessness to create a character who is not ourselves, and live through them as they would, in a world that’s not our own. It takes the ability to walk hard miles in another’s shoes. To crawl inside the minds of the sick and confused and appreciate their point of view, without losing our own sanity.
Writing requires us to be empathetic to even the most lost of souls, and find their paths to redemption. Sometimes it calls on us to stand idly by while our characters ignore the right choices and suffer through consequences. You cannot learn from any book how to take a reader by the hand and lead them willingly down the path of your story. You can’t be taught how to make them care as deeply as you do for the outcome. That is something that springs up from experience and creating something you love with such terrible ferocity that it seeps through the pages and infects those who read it. Good writing is the unique balance of both function and feeling. It is a heart that leads a reader down paths that are devoid of distraction. This path cannot be shown by reference alone. It must be explored and felt.
I have plenty of paths to trod down still. I’ll have more than my fair share of obstacles along the way. I will always have to look up examples of query letters, and keep “The Elements of Style” handy. But I will take my heart with me on the journey and remember that the soul of a story, whether it sells or not, is the part that makes the writing itself worth the trip.
Sarah Reichert is a free-lance writer and novelist in Fort Collins, Colorado. A Wyoming native, she’s been writing for over 22 years and recently published her first paranormal romance novel, Fixing Destiny. She is a blogger for the Northern Colorado Writers group, has been featured in The Fort Collins Coloradoan, and recently was published in the Summer 2014 edition of “From The Depths.” Sarah lives with her husband, daughters, a pretentious Siamese, and two lazy hounds in relative and unending chaos. She is currently working on a sequel to her first novel, and hopes to have it available by January 2015.
You can find out more about Sarah at her website and at The Writing Bug blog. She can also be found on Facebook. Her first novel, Fixing Destiny, is available in print and ebook atAmazon.com.
John Paul McKinney says
You’re no “bit of a hack,” Sarah and this blog is perfect proof. I agree with your observation about conflicting advice from the “experts,” and how it can bog us down, but I especially like your view of creating characters that are not us and following them along their journey. Thanks for the interesting post.
Patricia Stoltey says
Thanks for those kind words, Sarah, but the ugly truth is that we carry that beginner angst with us for a long, long time.
M. K. Theodoratus says
Sarah, the nice thing is that one page a day can turn into more when you’re not thinking about “deadlines” all the time.
Dean K Miller says
I agree, the changing modes, ideas, suggestions, rules, road maps and the like seem to change day-to-day. Get it down first is the one rule that is time tested and true.
Well said, Sarah.
Margot Kinberg says
Pat – Thanks for hosting Sarah.
Sarah – Thanks for sharing your journey with us. I think the path is different for each of us, and that’s what makes it so exciting.