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.
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.
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)