So why was I running away from blogging about books on writing? You’ll probably think this is an oxymoron, but I don’t read books on writing. I can see your faces right now all distorted with disbelief. A writer who doesn’t read books on writing? How does she improve her craft? That’s a fair question, to which I respond, “I learn on the job.”
“Huh?!” you ask. I can see the blank looks on your face. Let me give you an example. I had been writing poetry and short stories for many years. When I entered graduate school I was faced with the task of writing my research for publication. Of course having written fiction I delved into long flowery prose. My professor looked at me and asked, “What the hell is this, a mystery novel?” He then said, “Cut out everything five prime of the verb.” (He was a geneticist so in laymen’s term, remove every clause in front of the verb.) As we proceeded with the editing he advised me to “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell what you told them.” From that I learned that technical writing is very different from fiction. It is succinct, to the point and information driven rather than prose driven. In fiction we build suspense and steer the reader in a certain direction, in technical writing we just tell you the facts and how we perceive them; you can interpret them how you want.
In writing fiction, I was just loosely aware of POV and the importance of telling the story from a particular point of view. I would write like I was the omniscient God knowing what every character is thinking, feeling, and doing at all times. When my first book got accepted for publication I was assigned a wonderful editor: Monica Harris. In her first edits I would see little notes saying, “pov”. So I called her up, and we spent a few hours on the phone, both her and my kids screaming in the background, discussing points of view and the importance of not switching pov in the middle of a story. I again learned some important lessons on writing and I learned them on the job.
After years of writing romance I decided to dabble in children’s literature. Was I in for a surprise! As great as I thought my writing was, when I gave the manuscript to a focus group of kids to read, they could not get through it. So it was back to the drawing board, editing it to death. Children’s book author and publisher and former novelnaught, Carol Mitchell helped me make it readable for kids. And of course my co-author and a child herself, Lynelle Martin, ripped it apart and made me take out every big word, rephrase every rigorous sentence, and remove everything too “sciencey” for kids to understand. Several things I learned about writing fiction for children include letting the protagonists be slightly older than the target age of the readers and making sure that they solve their own dilemmas. Again I learned on the job.
I haven’t read any books on writing recently, yet I am constantly working on developing my craft through practice, through suggestions from editors, through reading blogs, articles and of course other novels by various authors. So my favorite book on writing isn’t a book after all. It is experience, and that you can only get by leaning on the job.