Writing Lessons Learned

Last night, I went to my first local writer’s group meeting.  I had a lot of fun and met some really nice people.  I talked with one girl, who was from Barcelona, for hours about Harry Potter.  She asked me if it was true that American girls like British guys.  I told her that all a lonely British guy has to do is come to America, say “Hello,” and he’ll never be lonely again.

She also asked me how I learned how to write, and to be honest, I really didn’t have a great answer for her.  I’ve been thinking about it, and although I did take short story, poetry, and even screen-writing classes in college and grad school, I’m not sure it’s really something that can be learned.  Writing is just one of those things that has always come naturally to me.  Like my sister and singing.  I had to work and train and listen really hard just to learn how to carry a tune.  My sister has a natural ear and quite near perfect pitch.  She’s taken lessons, but she’s never really had to work at it like I did.  As far as writing goes, however, I just decided that I wanted to write a book one day and that was it.

That’s not to say I haven’t taken advice from other authors.  I read Stephen King’s entire book On Writing and it had some great pointers (Duh, he’s Stephen King).  One of them was to use adverbs sparingly.  I like adverbs.  I use them all the time.  But any writer will tell you that it’s better to show than to tell.  It’s something that my high school English teacher called “pics.”  Paint me a picture with words.  Don’t tell me.  Show me.  That was honestly some of the best advice I ever received on writing.

Another bit of good advice that I’ve tried to keep with me, I learned from an author I met at the Renaissance Faire of all places.  She was there, signing books, and I told her that I was working on my first novel (this was at least a few years ago), but that I couldn’t seem to get past the first couple of chapters because I kept going back, rereading, and changing them.  She told me to stop doing that immediately, or else I would never move forward.  This may have been the best piece of advice I could have received.  I’m by no means a perfectionist, but I do want my work to be the best it can be.  However, it won’t matter how good it is if I never finish it.

For me, the creative process has always seemed like a leak in a dam.  I believe everyone has creativity and stories and paintings and music all stored up in their brain, but sometimes, it gets trapped.  For those of us who write and paint and compose in our day-to-day lives, that little bit of creativity that leaks out is like a trickle in a dam, and if we keep working at it, eventually a trickle becomes a wave until the entire dam bursts.

One of the guys was asking how another author and I keep going through writer’s block.  The only answer either of us had was “keep writing.”  Make something up.  Do something you had no idea you were going to do.  It always amazes me how, when I sit down to write, I’m never 100% sure what’s going to happen.  The other night, I was working on one of the stories, and one of my characters just kept spouting out stuff that I’d never even considered before.  It’s amazing how the words and thoughts and emotions that you never knew you had inside of you flow so freely and so honestly through your fingertips, and often times, spoken through the mouths of others.  That’s one of my favorite parts of writing.  I can have an idea of where I want the story to go, but deep down, I’m not totally in control.  In writing, you have to be determined, but you also have to keep an open mind and be willing to make changes, because you never know where the story will take you.

Finally, the last piece of great advice I received was from Josh Groban.  Sadly, he was not talking to me one on one.  My sister and I were at his concert a few years back (Fantastic, by the way.  He sounds better live than he does recorded!) and he started talking about his training and everything he learned.  He said, “The only advice I can give, and it’s the best piece of advice I ever got, was to never stop learning.  Always be a student.  Be humble.  Be thankful.”  In other words, don’t get too big for your britches.  Unless you’re JK Rowling, in which case, the size of your britches don’t matter one bit because you created Harry Potter.  But for most of us, it rings true, no matter what line of work you’re in.

As for me, I need to just sit my butt down and write.  This is the busiest time of the year, and I’m thankful that I have stuff to do!  But I really want to finish my first draft of the Cemetery Tours sequel by the end of the year.  I think I’ll make it.  I just have to sit down, concentrate, and write.  It’s not that hard, but at the same time, it is so incredibly easy for the creative mind to get distracted.  To be honest, I blame my  mother.  She brags all the time about how she gorged herself on Twinkies and Ding-Dongs when she was pregnant with me.  I’m like, “Well, that’s great for you, but did you ever think about the effect all that sugar had on my brain while it was still developing?”  Clearly, it was not a positive one.

And with that, I’m off.  Please enjoy my feeble attempt at holiday humor/shameless self-promotion.

Cemetery Turkeys

My cover designer is going to kill me.