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Tuesday, October 06, 2009


IMO, writers develop instincts for their craft by reading voraciously and writing.

Reading is tremendous, and even if you're unaware of it, you're internalizing things like pacing, structure, how to build suspense, and so on. Some writers can learn this by reading books on craft, but I wasn't one of them. So much of what I know about storytelling came from reading. I own more than 4,000 fiction books that I've read and that's not counting the ones I checked out of the library or borrowed from friends or no longer have. That's a lot of reading, but it also taught me a lot about writing. Even if I wasn't aware of it.

I started writing when I was 14 and I knew by the time I was 15 that I wanted to write books and tell stories. I started and abandoned a lot of projects, I sought perfection and revised the life out of the beginnings of some of my stories. But I learned.

I picked up more when I decided I had to finish a book. There are things a writer learns working on the middle and the end that they can't learn from writing the beginning. It's hard, though. At least it was hard for me to move past writing beginnings. As I analyze myself, I think it was a way to lie to myself. I could tell myself I was writing, but never have to risk sending anything out. After all, it wasn't done, what was there to send?

But I also hid the fact that I was writing stories from everyone. No one read my work until about 2000. (Ravyn's Flight was released in 2002.) That was when I finally came out of the writing closet at least with my online friends. I left everyone else in the dark. This ended up being a benefit.

First, let me say that I received tremendously helpful feedback from the people who read Ravyn's Flight. I thank them for the time and comments they made. But the big thing was that by the time I sent this book out, I'd been writing long enough to trust my instincts. If someone made a suggestion that didn't feel right to me, I was able to ignore it. That's one of the mistakes I think a lot of new writers make--they join critique groups before they've learned to trust their writing instincts.

Critique groups have interesting dynamics. I was never part of a formal group, but I did have an unofficial group. I think most people honestly try to be helpful, but not all the advice should be taken. One of the questions that has to be asked is will the suggestion make the work better or does it just make it different? Too many new writers can't see the difference and when they receive a suggestion, they take it, trusting the other person knows better than they do. I've heard of writers who've lost their love of their story after exposing it to a critique group. Sure, maybe the group isn't the right fit for the writer, but if she had more trust in herself, it wouldn't matter.

Because of this, I think I was lucky that I kept my writing to myself until I did develop that trust in myself. Do I have moments when I freak out? You bet. But at the end of the day, I know I can write a book and I know no one knows my characters or their story like I do. It was worth the years working alone to have that confidence.