When people ask me how long I’ve been writing, my usual response is: I’ve been writing the world in my head my entire life. I just didn’t write a novel until 2007.
I’ll be honest. I don’t remember having a burning desire to be a writer, in my younger years. But then, I wanted to be a lot of things. Like many of those other things, it didn’t occur to me I could actually do it— be a writer. We’re talking before internet, and all the authors I voraciously read, were faceless rock stars to me. Growing up as I did in a very, very small town, it just wasn’t the sort of thing one did, I mean, I don’t recall a single person I went to school with having dreams of publishing a book.
But oh, I loved to read; something I inherited from my mother.
Sure, I dabbled in poems over the years (bad poetry, no doubt) and song lyrics, and in one high school class we had a fun exercise in dialogue that I recall my teacher saying I did well with. And yes, I’ve always had a vivid imagination, yet it still didn’t really occur to me that I could be a writer, except perhaps in random fantasies, of which I had several (and still do).
So what was the push (after a wretched experiment several years ago with a novella of sorts), the metaphorical shove that caused the click in my brain, caused me to say why not?
Role play partners who told me I should publish. You see, I was writing. We wrote never-ending plot posts that we worked from in live time online. Characters emerged who had very strong voices, some of which are in the Paris Immortal series, in fact.
You should publish, my partners in crime said. One and a half years later, I gave it a go. I wrote the first novel and here I am. I’m grateful for those years of role play, because I honed some skills there, I found a voice. I sometimes say that was my five year first draft.
• Not so random tip #1: Role play, in my opinion, is fantastic practice, and in fact, I still do it. I work out new characters this way, as well as play old characters. Even after you’ve ‘made it’, take your characters out for a spin. Heck, you could do this on any of the numerous free networking sites; make your own blog for it. Fans— genre fans in particular —love interacting with their favorite characters. It makes them even more real, and it keeps you in a character’s head, not to mention, it’s fun! For new characters I’m working out, I keep it mostly private. Wouldn’t want to give out a plot before the book’s written, after all.
When someone asks me if I took classes, and/or if I would recommend certain books on writing, my usual response is: I never attended a writing course, and the only book I have on writing, is Stephen King’s On Writing. Yes, I’ve looked up some tips on the internet; I brushed up on some grammar, but nope. No classes. (I was an A student in English, however. Pay attention to those classes!)
Do I think writing classes are valuable? I’m certain they can be. A writing group can be supportive, give you a place to receive feedback, help you learn some rules so you know which ones to break, and in general it’s no doubt lovely to be in a group of people who have a common goal, and if you don’t know where to begin with this goal, they can help you figure that out. I’m certain it’s easier than scouring the streets looking for just one, one person, to give you an opinion on a story. Oh, I forgot. We have internet now. You can take classes online, if you’re shy!
Anyway, I probably would’ve enjoyed a writing group when I was younger. Perhaps I would’ve written that first novel sooner, who knows? But that isn’t the only way to learn the craft. I honestly believe that one of the best ways (and you can do this while you take a class!) is to read. Everything. All the time. Even things you are not normally interested in. You may learn what not to do just as well as what works for other people, not to mention, it keeps that imagination stimulated. And really, shouldn’t an author love to read? I haven’t met one yet who didn’t. What a bizarre concept, not reading.
I’ve been reading for about 40 years, now. I owe a debt to every single author. Reading keeps me inspired, keeps my brain working, thinking, digesting, and there’s the added bonus of being entertained, moved, awed. (And sometimes saying to myself, damn, I wish I would’ve thought of that!)
• Not so random tip #2: Once you’ve ‘made it’, DO NOT STOP READING. Don’t use the excuse of having no time. Make the time. Read your own genre to keep up with what’s out there, but also go outside your genre.
If you ask me what my writing schedule is, I’d at first laugh, and then I might say: sporadic. I’m no doubt about to sound like one of the laziest writers you’d ever meet. I dislike schedules. It’s too much like work. Then again, I’ve written four novels in a bit less than a year and a half…
When I’m on, I’m on. I can pour out at least 15,000 words in a sitting, at top speed. I wrote draft one of Paris Immortal in about two weeks. Other days, I don’t write at all. I am no Stephen King, who is amongst those who will tell you to write every day, write something, anything, every single day. I simply cannot stare at a white space with nothing already in my head and try to force it. I will drive myself insane, and will likely delete every word I manage to eke out, if any come at all. This is not to say that writing for the sake of writing isn’t a good thing, for while I may not write in a novel every day, I do, when I think about it, write something nearly every day, whether it be a blog, handwritten journal, something such as I’m writing now, or that role play I mentioned before.
And just because I’m not cramping my fingers by typing or handwriting, doesn’t mean I’m not writing in my head. Every word in my head will not make it to paper, but it’s there, and that’s where I write first. Hmm. Maybe I’m not so lazy after all. All my outlines are in my head.
I happen to be wired in a way that doesn’t allow me to feel good about writing it down unless I can pour several words out at a time. My brain is firing, my fingers can’t keep up, oh! What a high. I don’t become as discouraged as I do when less than 3,000 words slowly creep out. But that’s me. Everyone is different. Everyone has a pace of their own.
I blog, I play, I sometimes do essays, and I day dream. Writing the world in my head, as I’ve been doing my entire life...
Now, ask me about writer’s block and I will say that most often, it stems from a lack of confidence, I feel. We are our own worst critics, our own worst enemies. I drove myself to the edge of the cliff of angst and halfway over, writing Paris Immortal: Absolutions. Every single thing I knew better than to do, I did to myself. I had no idea if anyone would read the first one when I wrote it, and then started on the second. By the third, the first was out, and I had the, oh my god people are reading these, moment. It smacked me hard across the face. I started second guessing everything. I began to think, oh my god I’ll never have another idea, how do I finish this! Oh my god I suck! I lost my joy for a while.
Please, whatever you do, try to hold onto your joy. Believe. If it’s truly ‘in your blood’, if writing is something you must do, it will always come to you. Even when you think you’ve lost it, it will return. If you dwell on not having anything to write, it will continue as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is where throwing some words around is useful. Something fun, something you’re not necessarily set on publishing. You never know where it will lead. I once posted in a blog, a challenge of sorts to my readers, a random photograph of a group of people gotten off the web. I challenged them to write captions for it, give names and backgrounds to each person, and give their impressions of what was going on when the photo was snapped. I asked them to go wherever their minds took them. It worked well. There were some very, very clever responses; some were entire little stories.
And this is where I repeat: READ. Watch, listen, experience. Don’t hate yourself if you just can’t seem to write that day. Go out and live, so you have something to come back and write about. Believe. Then, write from your heart, gut, maybe even your soul. Not just your head.
Now…if you ask me why I write what I write, or what I currently write?
I had to think hard about this question. I’ve read more books than I can remember, in fact I was rather widely read by the age of twelve or so, but horror does stand out. I remember most my mother’s collection of Stephen King, and Koontz, and reading things like The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, Alien…I remember horror films, too.
I still like horror films, dark films. Vampires always gripped me. I’ve always had a soft spot for the bloodsuckers. They fascinated me. So many things can be explored through vampires, so many metaphors, in any time line you wish. It can all be done on such a grand scale.
But it’s not just all the various clichés of vampires that fascinate me, it’s not just horror. My own life lens and everything I’ve seen, heard, all the people I’ve met, have influenced me. I have always been fascinated with why people do what they do, how they feel, how they react to things. I wonder what they’re thinking, and so, I’m very character-driven in my writing. If a character is not well rounded— real —I can’t care what happens to him/her. Why should I? I want to feel them when I read, I want to sympathize, or hate, or cheer for. Cry with, laugh with, and shiver with— something, give me something. And I want this when I write. My characters run the show.
I must mention Uncle Stevie, again. King says more than once in his book On Writing, to tell the truth.
Always tell the truth as you see it. Don’t force your characters. Go where they go, see how it pans out. You can tell when characters are merely plugged into a plot. As I said, I am character-driven, myself. They come first (thus the role play). I may have an idea of the plot, but it’s loose until I toss some characters in there, and often enough, they divest me of my original idea, because they have other things in mind— generally, at least in my case, better things.
Finally, if you ask me what drives me, what makes me do this crazy thing that is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes so uplifting, often enough angst ridden…well I’ll tell you it’s because I must. I had to. It was dying to get out of my head and run free in the world. My characters are so very real to me, and I need to tell their stories. They insisted and I agreed.
What makes it worth it? Having even one, just one person, tell me how much those characters/stories meant to them. When they tell me that they were moved in some way, and those characters are real to them, too. In this I am wealthy, as I’ve had more than one person express their love of these characters. What seemed a fantasy, this writing ‘lark’, isn’t just a fantasy anymore.
• Not so random tip #3: You cannot please everyone all the time. For your own sanity and self-preservation, drill this into your head. You will never, ever, have every single person who reads your story, love it. They might even hate it. Critique can be very constructive, but it can also be destructive if you take every single word to heart. It’s your story, in the end, no one else’s. This is why it’s important to ‘tell the truth.’ As long as you know you did the best that you could do, that you wrote it the way you saw it, you have succeeded, and there is always, even after you’ve ‘made it’, room to improve. And you will, if you keep writing. But as long as you did your best, are as happy as you can be with what you’ve written, no one can take that away from you— unless you allow them to.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me a story.