Theory on Thursday with Cathryn Hein

This Thursday I’m so lucky (and so are you) to have my gorgeous friend and best-selling rural romance author, Cathryn Hein with her take on writing craft books.

Best thing is Cathryn has coined a new writing acronym and I think we’ll all be fighting to use it as our own…
Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.
William Faulkner

I am the writing hang-up queen. There, I’ve said it. Out and proud …well, out. Proud? Er, no. See, the problem with being a WHUQ is that I can’t read anything about craft without developing an issue about it. And when I develop an issue paralysis soon follows, creeping up my fingers until they collapse on the keyboard like drugged-out witchetty grubs. Chapters, scenes, paragraphs, even sentences seem impossible to get right because of the fear that I haven’t take into account issue X or technique Y.

The weird thing is that until I started reading and learning about the craft of writing, this never happened. I’d just sit down and splurk out all the drama festering in my head without a second’s thought to point of view, or transitions, or dialogue tags, or filter words or [insert topic of your choice here]. It all seemed to whizz out naturally. Then I started reading craft books and articles, and panic set in. Oh, I wasn’t doing this right. Oh, I must remember to do that. My word counts dropped from 3,000 to 5,000 a day to around 1,200, sometimes less. The words that I did produce were agonised over and often deleted because they simply weren’t good enough.

Believe me, this is no way to write. It’s inefficient and unsustainable and downright stupid. So I came up with a solution – read craft books only between manuscripts. And it’s helped. A lot. But a girl (or boy) still needs writerly nourishment and inspiration, and the way I achieve this is to read as much as I can when I’m writing. Learning, but with a great creamy dollop of pleasure on top.

Because what I’ve discovered is that, whether it be a heart-hammering page turner, or an infuriating, what-a-load-of-tripe, how-the-hell-did-this-ever-get-published chucker of a book, every book you read (and write) teaches you something. Now days, I have favourite authors I keep exclusively for when I’m writing because they’re so inspirational. The sheer joy of reading those books makes me want write better. They’re positive reinforcements, showing me what’s possible, of what I can strive for, instead of reminding me what I haven’t done.

The best ones are the ones that provide a physical reaction. My most memorable recent experience came from British crime writer Mo Hayder. I can’t remember which book it was (once discovered, I gobbled up every book she wrote in quick succession), I think it may have been The Treatment, but she put me in such a state of anxiety I actually broke into a nervous sweat. My heart hammered, my breathing quickened, all because of the fear I felt for the characters. It was one of the most astonishing pieces of storytelling I’ve ever experienced. I think I went back and read those chapters four or five times, trying to figure out exactly how she built such incredible tension. With a carefully measured and clever tightening of the drama, that’s how.

I’ve yet to see a craft article or book that demonstrates, with the same impact as Hayder so easily did in a few chapters, how to create such an intense emotional response in a reader. Same with novels that leaving me sobbing and hiccupping and needing a good lie down to get over the emotional trauma of the story. Theory doesn’t leave the same impression. It’s too dry.

I remember reading very early on that there are only two things a writer needs to do: read a lot and write a lot. Only two things? I don’t know about that. I’ve learned an enormous amount from craft books, articles, and Romance Writers of Australia conferences, and don’t know where I’d be without that knowledge. Still chasing my long held dream of publication probably. But I also understand that everyone has a different way of learning. Theory is great but, for me, seeing and doing remain the best teachers. Dedicated craft stuff is best left for the floppy days between manuscripts, when I can absorb information without immediately turning into a WHUQ.

After all, I can’t afford paralysed fingers. I have books to write!

Thanks for sharing your writing hang-ups Cathryn.

Cathryn has generously offered to give away a copy of Promises to one lucky commenter.
A father with something to hide, a jockey with a taste for blackmail, a man with an agonising secret … and a young woman in love, defying them all.

Sophie Dixon is determined to leave her tragic past behind and forge a bright future on her beloved farm. While looking to buy a new horse, she is drawn into her neighbour Aaron Laidlaw’s orbit, despite the bad blood between their families.

As the racing season unfolds, Sophie and Aaron’s feelings for each other deepen. But Aaron is torn, haunted by a dark secret he fears can never be forgiven – especially by Sophie.

Sophie believes herself strong, but the truth behind her mother’s death will test her strength,
and her love, to the limit. She’s been broken once. No one wants to see her broken again.
Least of all the man who has grown to love her.

For your chance to win a copy of Cathryn’s best-selling rural set romance, Promises, leave a comment below along with the answer to this question: “Where is Cathryn’s next novel, Heart of the Valley, set?”

The answer can be found on Cathryn’s website. Winners will be drawn randomly from those eligible. Closes midnight, Sunday 20th November, 2011 and announced here the following day.

(Sorry, open to Australian addresses only)

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25 thoughts on “Theory on Thursday with Cathryn Hein

  1. Cathryn, I agree. A well written book that grabs you does inspire you 🙂
    I've already got Promises so please don't enter me in the comp but for those looking for a great read…try it!

  2. Can't wait to read Promises – just love a good Australian rural read. NSW's Hunter Valley is a beautiful place – great setting for a good story.

  3. My rule – all rules are made to be broken if it needs to be!

    Great post, Cathryn, and I already have Promises. Not reading until current WIP is finished only 7k to go. It will be a special treat.

    All the best.

  4. Hi Cathryn – good post 🙂

    I loved your line – “The sheer joy of reading those books makes me want write better” – what a great inspiration 🙂

    BTW – I'd love to read Promises, the Hunter Valley is a gorgeous place to set your book in.

  5. Hi Rach! and Cathryn,
    I was only talking the other week about this problem. Before I knew anything, I wrote like there was no tomorrow… and then I learned and stalled. Thanks for your trick, Cathryn. I'll have to try it.

    Good luck with your new story. The Hunter Valley is lovely – horse and wine, what more could you want!

    Cath

  6. I think the things that stop me from writing most of the time is my own self doubt. Even after a wonderful day of craft like I had on Saturday I still feel 'scared'. Guess it's the same as you with craft books – what if I'm not doing it right! Guess I just have to do it and then I'll know!! Great blog!

  7. Ooh, look at all these wonderful comments.

    Thanks for the endorsement, Fiona. And I agree, well written books are huge inspirations. Mind you, so are crappy ones because you just KNOW you can do better!

    Kellie, the Hunter is indeed beautiful. We're off for another weekend up there soon. Can’t wait.

    Beck, so nice to see another WHUQ. I have to admit I haven't completely worked past it. I’m not sure I ever will, but I'm getting there.

    Bron, too right rules are made to be broken if needs be. Who wants to write the same as everyone else? That’d be just too boring.

    Thanks, Joanne. Lovely to see you here. Awesomely written books used to depress me a bit but now I use them for motivation. They’re something to aspire to.

    Hi Catherine. Horses, wine and a bit of sexiness thrown in. Yep, it's all happening in the Valley!

    Self doubt is such a killer, isn't it, Nicole? I hate it when I have days like that, but the fear of missing a deadline tends to keep me going. I loathe being late for things!

    Jackie, I have a love-hate relationship with craft books. Except for the super dry ones, I generally enjoy reading them but half the time they do my head in. Leaving them for when I'm between books has definitely helped my sanity.

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting, everyone. And all the best to those who’ve entered the Promises draw.

  8. Oooh, WHUQ! Is there a 12-step program because I think I need it, lol. My names Anita and I'm a WHUQ… (Although nice to know I'm not the only one).

    The Hunter Valley sounds like a gorgeous place to visit – maybe one day?

  9. Rules, rules and more rules and then I read a book that breaks everyone of them but I can't put it down!! I know your dilemma so well, Cathryn…

    I love re-reading a book that's grabbed me to try and work out why it was so special. Sometimes it's nothing more than the wonderful way a writer has put their words together. When that happens I invariably find self-doubt sneaking up on me. Then I head for my comfort reads and the world goes back into perspective again 🙂

    Looking forward to your next book!!

  10. I like craft books – but don't read a lot of them. Your words resonate because I think they're true for many writers.

    I've read Promises and loved it. I'm so looking forward to your next release Cathryn.

    Great post!

  11. This post is particularly fitting for me today because I've been trying to plot the major points of my next book. This is something I FEEL I should do to improve my process but I'm finding it VERY tricky. Maybe I should just give up and dive right in.

    Thanks so much for coming today, Cathryn and for you generosity in offering a copy of Promises!

  12. Ah, Coleen, it’s good to make up words. Who knows, Splurk might even catch on!

    Oh, how I wish there was a 12 step program, Anita. But then I’d probably get a hang-up about that.

    Thanks, Helene. I used to shake my head at those rule-breaking books and wonder why it was all right for those authors but not for me. Then I realised that it’s all about story. Tell a good one and you can do what you damn well like.

    Helen, I always felt the odd one out because I kept hearing about all these writers who devour craft books by the dozens. Nice to know I’m not alone. Craft books are interesting and I’ve definitely learnt from some of them, but I can also say some have done more damage than good.

    Oh, I do love a good pun, Jenn!

    Rach, we all have our processes. Sometimes you just need to keep faith that yours is what works for you.

    Thanks, everyone!

    Ha ha! The word verification is Dozymerb. Sounds like an insult!

  13. Ah, Coleen, it’s good to make up words. Who knows, Splurk might even catch on!

    Oh, how I wish there was a 12 step program, Anita. But then I’d probably get a hang-up about that.

    Thanks, Helene. I used to shake my head at those rule-breaking books and wonder why it was all right for those authors but not for me. Then I realised that it’s all about story. Tell a good one and you can do what you damn well like.

    Helen, I always felt the odd one out because I kept hearing about all these writers who devour craft books by the dozens. Nice to know I’m not alone. Craft books are interesting and I’ve definitely learnt from some of them, but I can also say some have done more damage than good.

    Oh, I do love a good pun, Jenn!

    Rach, we all have our processes. Sometimes you just need to keep faith that yours is what works for you.

    Thanks, everyone!

    Ha ha! The word verification is Dozymerb. Sounds like an insult!

  14. Hi Cath, and Rach,
    Enjoyed reading the post, lots of great advice. Bob Mayer once said that if you know all the rules have a good reason to break them.
    I've just finished a novel by Karen Fenech, titled Gone. Oh my, the first page hooked me and kept me there. Absolutely loved it. The first sentence, 'In seven minutes her mother was being excuted.'

  15. I've just culled my craft collection. I like inspirational writers like Natalie Goldberg rather than writers who tell you MUST have 3 acts or 5 acts or a variety of beats. So the Hunter Valley? Lots of winery research required for the this book Cathryn?

  16. I love books like that, Suz. It's such a great talent to be able to do that to your reader. I'll have to check Gone out now. That's a great opening line. And thank you so much for your kind words. Feeling a bit chuffed right now!

    You have no idea, Keziah! I'm going to set another one in the Hunter simply for the research opportunity. Hmm. Now I think on it, Coonawarra is only 50kms from Mum and Dad. Possibilities!

  17. Congratulations, Kellie Schache! Please email me at cathrynhein @ gmail.com (without the spaces) so I can send you your copy of Promises.

    And thanks again to everyone for dropping by!

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