Lasting Advice from Writers and Teachers #3

#3. “Writing is very hard and bad for your health,” – a writing professor at the New School, New York, N.Y.

Back when I dreamed of becoming I writer, I took a course on fiction writing at the New School. This was so many years ago that I’ve forgotten the name of the teacher, but I’ve not forgotten him. He strode into the classroom, took up a piece of chalk and scrawled his message across the blackboard.

“Writing is very hard and bad for your health.”

writing_stressHe wrote this at the beginning of every class, and then stared back at us, his students, eyes narrowed daring the feeble hearted to get up and leave. No one budged for quite some time, but by the end of the course very few remained.

I seldom turned in an assignment to this teacher that he didn’t select it as an example to hold up before the class. This was done anonymously, so only the gulping of my breath; the beating of my heart, or the sudden flushing of my cheeks would give me away. His style was to praise first, words of glory and bright expectation, and then rip to kill. I would slink from the class, vowing to never write another word.

Fortunately, I learned early in life to think for myself, and so I interpreted his warning to suit me. In my experience, working at something you don’t like to do but have to do in order to survive is very hard. Writing is a calling. I don’t mean it’s a high and virtuous profession, but if writing calls you, you cannot help but answer. If you develop a habit to write everyday, writing will provide you with the energy, passion, and imagination it takes to get its stories told through you. Writing will become irresistible.

Also, because of this teacher, I determined I would not allow writing to be bad for my health. I walk three miles a day, do yoga each morning, and lift weights at the gym three times a week. I meditate every day. I’m twenty years into my writing life and I’m fit for many more.

Thank you, dear writing teacher at the New School.

chistinagreenaway.com

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Lasting Advice from Writers and Teachers #2

#2. “Nobody dies on page two.” – Erica Duncan, author/teacher.

I lived in Sag Harbor, N.Y. at the beginning of my full time writing life, where I attended a writer’s group lead by *Erica Duncan. Erica, a celebrated literary voice, believed there was no such thing as a person who could not write. How lucky for me, as I had neither read a great body of literature nor acquired the degrees someone of her caliber might expect of a student.

Nobody dies on page two. A character might die anywhere in the book, but if death comes as early as page two, then it probably belongs on page one.

grim-reaper4Writing this blog caused me to review the first chapter of my latest novel Time Blade, about to go off to my editor. Gosh be darned, if I didn’t find the inciting incident of the story on page two!

I write fantasy, and Time Blade opens with Sky, the main character, traveling by train to Cornwall, UK. Crossing the River Tamar, Sky meets Tamara, Spirit of the River, who appears in a glittering body of astral light. Tamara tells Sky he must return to the ancient lost Kingdom of Ruberah to fulfill a promise he wrote eons ago. I had preceded this scene with seventeen-year-old Sky interacting with an elderly fellow passenger, a woman who never appears in the book again!

I wrote that scene to reveal certain character traits about Sky, which it did and which writing I perfected daily, as the document opens on page one and I could not resist tweaking it at every glance. Now I recognized it as one of those ‘darlings’ that must be killed.

Writer-Up! Off with its head! Nothing is lost! Sky’s character unfolds naturally within the story.

I knew next to nothing about writing when I attended Erica’s workshops, which was a blessing, otherwise I might not have dared to set foot in her establishment. Erica critiqued me as fairly and evenly as she did her most outstanding students.

Thank you, Erica.

*Erica Duncan: A Wreath of Pale White Roses

Unless Soul Clap its Hands: Portraits and Passages

http://www.christinagreenaway.com

Lasting Advice from Writers and Teachers #1

#1. The Shitty First Draft

I read Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird some twenty years ago, when I took to the writing life full time. The advantages of writing a shitty first draft recommended by Anne, lingered in my consciousness for years, yet I didn’t write one until I began my third novel last year.

Why not?

I was in a writer’s critique group for most of these years, and out of respect for my fellow writers I felt compelled to turn in a decent piece of work. However, many a well-polished page never made it into the published book. Time wasted? No. Craft learned? Hopefully.

It took me five years to write my first book Dream Chaser: Awakening and another five to complete Written in Ruberah: Age of Jeweled Intelligence, the first of a trilogy. At that rate, it would take me fifteen years to complete the trilogy! Time to speed up. I turned to the shitty first draft, and I wrote one in six weeks for Time Blade: Age of Jeweled Intelligence.  

I came to the page every day, terrified, forbidding myself to even glance upon what I wrote the day before. I shoved a sock in the mouth of that nasty little editor in my head, whispering, you’ll regret this. Like hell I will!

Then came the read back. OMG! I repent. What rubbish is this? When will I come to something I can use? My gut fell to the floor. I wallowed and wailed, but once I gained control of my emotions, I read the draft like a puzzle. I began to find bits of story gold here and there. I also spotted unnecessary storylines I might otherwise have chased down, writing them over and over, trying to fit them in.

I wrote three more drafts of Time Blade within ONE year, bringing the story to what I call ‘editor ready.’ I will publish Time Blade: Age of Jeweled Intelligence this fall, cutting my novel writing time from five years to one and a half.

YES to the shitty first draft!

Thank you Anne.   christinagreenaway.com