Monday, June 1, 2009

Writing About Writing

Unlike many writers, I didn't start early. I didn't write a chapter book when I was eight. Didn't publish poetry in high school. Didn't sell to a literary magazine in college. Had no clue I wanted to write.

I read a lot. I loved getting lost in other worlds, other people's lives. Still do.

All my life, however, stories have formed in my head. Not always complete stories, though. Sometimes a snippet of dialogue, sometimes a plot snippet, sometimes a character name with a visual image and hints of what the person is about.

As I grew older, some of these bits grew as well. Sort of like having a make believe friend, only I had a whole cast and crew - each with an individual agenda.

What did I know? I thought everyone's head was like mine.

One year at work, I ended up with someone else's calendar - and kept it. At the top of each page was a color photograph. That first work day in January, I wrote a couple of paragraphs about that picture. And I did that for every work day of the year. I kept them in a file on my computer. I did it sort of like this blog, before I started my day. Sometimes the photos were no-starters for me and I had only a paragraph or two. Sometimes I had a real flash story - or a story beginning - written in a matter of minutes.

It was the beginning of getting all the people out of my head and onto paper/screen/whatever. A few years after that, I started to write for real. I took a few creative writing type courses, bought a bushel of how-to books, and dived in.

I thought I knew how to write.

I knew nothing.

Then I found these marvelous things called critique groups. All in all, at one time or another, I belonged to seven or eight, I think. Not all at once. I learned a lot from each group. And I hope a few of those group members learned a little from me.

Now I have two critique partners I rely on to tell me when something sucks. They're good, and they tell me that a lot!

I still have a lot to learn.

So I keep writing. The more I write, the more I learn. The more I read, the more I learn.

On these Monday writing posts, I try to stay away from specifics. For every "writing rule" out there, you can find hundreds of places on the web that will tell you how to accomplish it. Most will be different. That's because writers are human, and each of us approaches the writing situation from a unique position. What works for Amy would send Tom screaming from the room.

What I do try to accomplish is to give you tips on what has worked for me. How I do certain things. When I do write about specifics, such as characterization, I strive to make the post open-ended and not cast in stone. I don't plan to ever make a writing post and say this is how you must construct a scene.

If I did, you might laugh so hard you'd snort coffee up your nose. Why should you listen to me? My short fiction and articles have been published, but no novels. No non-fiction books. You can't find me in your local bookstore. Yet. So if no one knows who I am, what do I know?

Like learning from critique groups about why certain things work and others don't, I think you can learn from me different ways to keep your writing going in the right direction. Feel free to tell me I'm full of it. Won't be the first time.

But give me a shot on Mondays. You just might find an occasional ah-ha! moment. Or a tidbit that keeps you writing for one more day.

I hope so.

9 comments:

sandra seamans said...

Great post, Carol! I don't think a writer ever stops learning.

Carol Kilgore said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Sandra. I appreciate your stopping by.

Happy to be not the only one still learning!

Helen Ginger said...

I love that you took pictures and wrote stories. Not just that you did it, but that you kept on doing it. That's dedication. And it takes a lot of dedication to get published. Congratulations.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Carol Kilgore said...

I am persistent. Sometimes it makes my live-in handyman bonkers. 'Quit' isn't in my dictionary.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Carol, I'm enjoying your posts, and your comment about getting overwhelmed with spam caught my attention. Could you elaborate on SMFS on how you're managing this for those of us who are completely new to this? I've just started a blog and barely know how this works.

Susan Oleksiw

Carol Kilgore said...

Sure, Susan, I'll be happy to. Although I used the all or nothing approach, I'll be happy to share there the full story.

Jan Christensen said...

Yes! I had an imaginary friend growing up--she was the mean, dare-devil one. I never thought of my characters being imaginary friends. I totally agree with your post about reading what others have to say. You never know when they might hit on something like the imaginary friend thing you'd never thought about before. Ah-ha moments are just wonderful! Good post (I'd tell you if it sucked, you know, but not in pubic--LOL)

Carol Kilgore said...

My imaginary friends never got in trouble when I was a kid. But one time I made up a story about a real new girl in school. And told my mother. Bad mistake. Real bad.

Carol Kilgore said...

Susan, I posted two messages on the SMFS list last night that pertain to your post.