Practicing the craft

So since around 1992, I had story ideas.  At the time, three small children took most of my focus, but even those adorable sprites couldn’t quiet my overactive imagination.  I even managed a script for Beauty College Blues, plunking out an homage to my 1985-86 stint in beauty school, complete with references to Blake and Krystal Carrington (let’s see who can identify those monikers).  But screenwriting wasn’t my forte, plus we were getting ready to move to Britain.  I set aside the fiction, concentrating on motherhood, Yorkshire, homeschooling.  But ideas continued to simmer.

1993; they were my life, but within the gray matter, other ideas were spinning.

1993; they were my life, but within the gray matter, other ideas were spinning.

It took a decade after we landed in the UK for me to start writing.  I will note that after my brother died, I spent a year chronicling that loss, which did end up as a book of sorts, but memoirs aren’t the same as learning to write fiction.  My path on this noveling road began in autumn of 2006 when my eldest mentioned NaNoWriMo.  But that was just a starting point.  The real work began in 2008, after another successful NaNo in November, 2007.  I pumped out over 150K in three stories during those thirty days.  Yes, I could write, but there is so much more to it.

Supposedly Stephen King said a million words were necessary for a writer to get a clue.  Maybe he didn’t say that, or not in that tenor.  But it’s a good rule of thumb; writing takes more than plots and characters.  It requires finesse, dedication, practice.  It needs continual engagement, whether in novels, short stories, essays, journal entries, blog entries; it’s the routine, in part.  It’s also stretching muscles in the brain and hands and heart.  Every writer has their own technique; I found that 50K or bust worked for me, as I’m prolific both with ideas and word counts.  But that’s just how I operate.  Thus, I’ve practiced via rough drafts; I have over forty in the can, but half of those will never see past my hard drive.  Life is short, only so much time to revise.  But the experience garnered from all those tales is immeasurable.  I’ve learned better sentence structure, cleaner prose, tighter plotting.  I still battle passive voice, probably will till the day I die.  I’ve not mastered a thing; writing, like motherhood, is forever a process.  That’s why revisions exist, and why kids grow up and move away.

1999; homeschooling wasn't just books and papers.  Kids home all the time was a gift, even if little writing took place.

1999; homeschooling wasn’t just books and papers. Kids home all the time was a gift, even if little writing took place. Only so many years to pull out the Easy Bake Oven.

Getting down to brass tacks; some of my novels benefit from complicated outlines.  Some aren’t more than characters’ names on a piece of paper.  Playlists are instrumental to every book I’ve written, but occasionally the songs alter during the writing.  I’m a morning person, so nearly all my writing occurs in the morning.  I have pounded out a short story at night, but my husband was gone, and I needed something to keep myself busy (those workaholic tendencies in full swing).  But I just don’t think clearly enough to sustain more than a few days past two or three in the afternoon.  Besides, when I write, I plop out a chapter, which can be anywhere from 2-6K.  Best to do that first thing off the bat, then the rest of my day is free.

For me, the most important technique was establishing the habit.  When I was oh-so-much-younger the idea of writing a book was to sit and toss off some gorgeous prose like I wasn’t doing more than watering the plants.  Hah!  One thing motherhood taught me was the essence of patience.  Homeschooling ingrained the notion of daily mental exercise (I learned maybe as much, if not more, than they did).  Living in the UK reminded me to appreciate what I possessed, be it rain or stunning sunshine.  All those, and many other elements, prepped me for that initial National Novel Writing Month, in which I realized a sweet dream.  But the one-off experience wasn’t enough.  It took well over another year to confirm my heart’s desire.  And to accept the mission, which hasn’t always been a walk in the park.  But like motherhood, homeschooling, and living in another country, I knew writing wasn’t going to be easy upon acceptance.

1999; field trips weren't garden variety.  England was a treasure all its own.

1999 at Byland Abbey; England was a treasure all its own, where the fiction got started.

Yet the rewards, oh my goodness, I wouldn’t trade a single day.  Writing requires great dedication, but the soul of a writer needs that sort of challenge, a fire churning from deep within. Plenty of folks want to write a book; it was my dream for ages.  Making it happen came down to prodding by my eldest, who knew me well enough after all those years of hanging out while education occurred.  It also was the result of that memoir which I finished a year after my brother’s death, a project completed on sheer love and no small amount of grief.  And of course a good butt-kicking from my Saviour who had plans all along.  Some might discount that last piece of the puzzle, but at times it takes something above and beyond the call to further change.  Whatever makes your engines go, use it.  Often writing is fueled not by routine or best intentions, but an inner desire that runs even when the tank is sputtering on fumes.  The resulting sense of accomplishment is euphoric, enough to make me want to do this one more time.

Which led me to indie publishing.  I’ll get to that last slice of the pie next week.

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About Anna Scott Graham

I'm an independent poet and novelist in addition to sharing my life with a wonderful man, various kids, several hummingbirds, and a plethora of plants inside and out. View all posts by Anna Scott Graham

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