Monday, March 15, 2010

Author Wannabes

Yesterday's Northwest Author Series was a reminder of the various Author Wannabes that I've encountered in classes, at conferences, and in seminars. It's very interesting to consider where the attendees are coming from -- not their residence, but their attitude toward writing.

Some folks can't not write. Whether it's lists, diaries, epic novels, or poetry -- they write. Then there are the folks who suddenly one day get a bee in their bonnet to write a novel. Oftentimes the person has a single story to tell. Sometimes it's the belief that they too would like a million dollar advance for sitting around all day like Stephen King.

The questions they ask in classes or at conferences reveal what category they belong to.

Me -- I've always scribbled. I have started stories all my life. Finished few. I therefore came to the early realization that this writing stuff is hard. I used my writing skills in most every job I had and, although I wasn't writing fiction, I was still trying to communicate clearly. I've kept a journal since I was 18. A lot of venting, tears, boring lists of the day's activities, my observations on the world around me, etc. I've also taken fiction writing courses, read numerous books and magazines about writing fiction, attended the Willamette Writers Conference numerous times, and read the kind of fiction that I would like to write. I understand that to write with the hope of becoming published requires work.

So yesterday, one of the attendees raises her hand and prefaces her question for Naseem Rakha with the statement that she's not a writer, but..."Is it possible for someone to just sit down and start writing and end up with a book?"

Well, if you're Naseem Rakha you can because you've been a broadcast journalist for many years. Which means you've conducted research, organized the material, drafted the story, edited it many times, and ended with a segment for OPB or NPR that has interesting characters, an intriguing situation, and a complete story arc.

When Naseem Rakha sits down to write and write and write without an outline, she is not just putting words to paper in hopes of finding a story somewhere among the hundreds of pages produced. She has already done research on the characters, setting, premise, and anything else that will flesh out her story. Ms. Rakha understands story structure and has already formed in her mind what plot points need to happen when and where.

I don't generally raise my hand at these sessions, but I did ask where Ms. Rakha was in the process of creating The Crying Tree when she took Eric Witchey's course. She was still writing the first draft and unwilling to completely outline her story because that's not how her creative process functions. However, she did apply Witchey's elements of a good scene in going through her first draft as the first step in her editing process.

The non-writing attendee turned to me after I'd made my inquiry of Ms. Rakha and asked how one would approach writing a novel. I suggested classes and writing conferences. "Oh, that's too much work."

"Then you don't want to write a novel."

Because writing a novel is hard work. And just because it sounds to you like Naseem Rakha sat down one day to start writing and ended up with an award-winning novel -- she didn't. She had years of reading, and a career as a broadcast journalist. She took fiction writing courses, and analyzed novels that she wanted to emulate to see what made them work. She did extensive research for her novel, and a lot of thinking about it.

There are a goodly number of Author Wannabes that assume they can take one little course or read a single book about writing and crank out a best seller in a few weeks.

Then there are the rest of us who can't help ourselves. We have to write, we do whatever we can to learn the craft and improve our skills, and we keep doing it. Most of us won't be published.

But that doesn't mean we aren't writers.


Beth said...

Wow~ Your post really hit me. I am the one that can't help but write: blogs, post, comments, ideas, menues, journals, list (<--- see?). I have stories and ideas that bubble all the time. I am still learning how to get them on paper though.

billie said...

Loved this - I'm one of those "have to write" folks. It seems to be how I orient myself in the world!

I'm also someone who rarely uses outlines. I read, research, make notes, and let the story take me where it will. Sometimes it gets so complex and comes from so deep a place I read back over the pages and can't remember writing it! For me, that's part of the magic and why I won't ever not write.

Don't know if you're on the Backspace writer's forum, but Naseem is a member and it's been exciting to see how well her book is doing.