Thursday, August 02, 2007

HOW DID YOU LEARN TO WRITE?

I was making notes the other day for a presentation and realized once again how fortunate we are to have RWA. When I decided to actually try to finish writing a romance novel back in 1992, I had the good fortune to read about our local RWA chapter in a newspaper article about Samantha James. I went to a meeting and decided I had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

There were real writers at the meeting! Not only had they finished a manuscript, they had books in print! And they were willing to share their expertise with writers like me who were just starting out. I was so excited I wrote a check to join that night.

Soon after I joined RWA, the chapter in Eugene (which has since disbanded) hosted a three-day conference. Once again, I was in heaven. More writers sharing their knowledge. However, I quickly crashed into the reality of how little I really knew about writing a manuscript.

This set up a pattern I repeated several times over the next few years. Susan Wiggs and Stella Cameron were the speakers at the Salem chapter conference. I took copious notes, had a major AHA! experience, and rewrote my manuscript. Guest speakers came to chapter meetings and I slowly gained an understanding of point of view, building characters, conflict, and the other pieces that make up a manuscript. So I rewrote that same manuscript again and again -- probably six or eight times.

That is the manuscript I sold to Awe-Struck E-Books in the fall of 2006 –– fourteen years after I started working on it.

Of course, in the meantime, I bought books on writing, attended more conferences, joined a critique group, and even became an online class junkie one year. Once in awhile, I actually sat at the computer and wrote .

How did you learn to write?

As you learned more did you stick with your first manuscript? Is it setting under the bed or hidden away somewhere? Did you shred it before someone found it?

Please share your journey of learning to write.

11 comments:

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Fun topic, Genene!

I wrote my first manuscript and sent it to a friend in Washington DC to read. She - a lawyer and a long-winded one at that (like me, not that I'm a lawyer, just long-winded), loved it so much, she made copies and gave it to her book club to read. I was ecstatic. I just knew I was going to sell right away, people were going to buy my books, I'd be featured in Oprah's book club!

As Danita would say, Ha!

Reality crashed down when the book club very gently told me I had a lot to learn, and several even suggested I take a writing class at a community college and learn how to - what else - write. Again, ha! I have a masters degree and I taught science and (gasp!) even English for nine years. The LAST thing I wanted to do was sit in a stuffy classroom and have someone tell me how to write.) Instead, I went online looking for writing tips, and that's how I found RWA. I remember my first meeting clear as if it happened yesterday. Leah Vale, Lissa Manley and Terri Reed were guest speakers talking about their critique group. I had no idea what a critique group was, but after listening, I wanted to be part of one! Danita and Becky and Paty seemed like old griends, and I immediately wanted to be part of their gang, and Genene had this uncanny control over the whole group. And though I kept my mouth shut that first night, the rest, as they shall say, is history. I've been hooked on "our" group ever since.

As for that first manuscript? It's saved on my old hard drive but it will never ever see the light of day. I may resurrect the secondary romance in that book someday, but the first is a stinker and can't be fixed. Oh, I had glowing prose and fabulous scene descriptions. There were even some great bits of dialogue and a basic plot that wasn't too bad, but everything else from characterization to pacing to turning points to POV was a mess. That first book was a learning process, and since it wasn't ever "the book of my heart", that was just fine with me.

Can't wait to hear everyone else's stories!

Alice Sharpe said...

This is a fun subject, Genene. And Eli, I loved hearing your story, too.

I started writing when my son was little. Redbook was my target market, but they weren't interested in me. At the time, Good Housekeeping also published fiction. Ditto. I sold my first short story when my mother said she'd heard some famous writer got her start writing confessions. Having never read one, I sent them a story and a few weeks later, there was a $200. check in the mail. I walked about a foot off the ground for several weeks -- I had arrived, I was a real writer. It took another year to sell them a second.

After joining a national group for professional writers, I discovered a local critique group. Joining that was pivotal because the chapter of the national group I belonged to didn't do much more than eat lunch and talk dry business. But the critique group was composed of men and women who actually wrote. I loved it. I started selling books, I did not join RWA -- big mistake -- until years later.

As for where I learned to writer -- I guess I learned by reading because I never took a class and didn't attend a workshop until way after I'd started selling books. I didn't know all the terms -- black moments and arcs and POV -- but I did understand the concepts and employed them as best I could.

The first book was silly. I have taken pieces of it and incorporated them here and there, but I have no idea where the book went. That's the trouble with all the changing technology -- it's easy to lose track. It doesn't matter, though.

I'm interested in hearing the next story!

Paty Jager said...

How did I learn to write... Well, I took a couple classes at the college on fiction writing, then I took some community ed classes on writing with real authors, then after attending a Fish Trap(writing conference at Wallowa Lake every summer)and being looked down upon when I read my Fabulous Historical Romance a kind NY editor who was teaching the class suggested I connect with RWA. I didn't have a clue what she was talking about. So after the class I asked her what she was talking about and she wrote the web site on a slip of paper for me.

I joined National, received the RWR and was so excited to see there was a conference in Seattle! I enrolled and went. When people asked me what chapter- I thought they meant the book I was working on! LOL Finally a kind soul explained the chapter thing and suggested I find one close to me.

The two possibilities were Salem and Portland. Both were about the same distance away- 2 1/2-3 hours. Feeling more confident about driving around the Salem area, I attended several conferences by this chapter before I joined. Those conferences and the meetings are what honed my writing and taught me about the publishing world. I love talking with others who share the same trials, tribulations, and triumphs with writing. And I love this group of writers.

That first Historical Romance which finaled in a love scene contest is in a box on the book case shelf and will most likely never be resurrected. About the only thing worth salvaging is the scene which finaled and concreted my feeling I'd finally found my niche.

Great topic, Genene!

Karen Duvall said...

I started out writing short stories on an electric typewriter, lol! Yeesh, I feel old. Anyway, I'd write them while the kids napped, and then send them off to Redbook and all the other women's magazines, only to get one rejection after the other.

Years later, after my divorce, I didn't know of any writers groups in my area, so I started one myself. Just a small group of writers, fiction mostly, who would take turns getting together at each others houses. I always wrote short fiction until I read a novel by Armistead Maupin that blew me away. The characters were so real I thought they were sitting in the chair right next to me, telling me their story. So I knew that's what I wanted to do, write books. I was horribly intimidated at first, but once I got started, I realized how liberating it was and I was hooked.

Then I learned about Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' annual conference so I joined the group and attended the conference. The group is for fiction of all genres, and I got to talk to an agent about my little novel that I'd just finished. She asked for it and I never sent it to her, but I did find an agent for it a few months later. She worked her patootie off for 2 years to sell it, but alas, the thing was a piece of crap and didn't sell. 8^) The book really was bad, my agent was just too new to the business to realize it. So we parted ways.

That first book is on my hard drive, so if I ever want to remind myself how far I've come since then, I just pull it up and read a page. Once the nausea passes, I move on.

I learned to write from workshops, conferences (this september will be my 14th RMFW conference), books, and mostly just reading. I joined RWA after an author friend of mine (Alice, it was Kay Bergstrom) suggested I try writing a Harlequin Intrigue for their contest. I wrote it, didn't win, rewrote it for Sillhouette, who liked it, but it languished in editor land for 18 months and was rejected when the editor who wanted it left the company. Such is life. The Wild Rose Press ended up with that one.

I'm really glad I got involved in RWA. Most fiction writers think it's just for romance writers, but that's not true. Romance writers know how to get that emotional punch into their pages that most other genre writers fail to do. Relationships are a vital component of any book, and no one writes relationships better than a romance writer.

wavybrains said...

Great topic Genene! I'm still learning to write. :)

I did take a number of writing classes in college, but college writing doesn't easily translate to fiction writing, nor does legal writing. I think my best fiction teachers have been my favorite books--I've learned so much about POV and dialogue and pacing just from dissecting my favorite books. I've also learned a lot from RWA and from writer blogs.

Barbara said...

Oh, Genene, I am so glad you shared the story of how you learned to write by working and reworking the same novel for 14 years before it got published! I seem to be about two years into that same process, and I periodically think I must just not really want this or am unable to actually do it. Writing fiction requires so much more creativity and imagination than writing nonfiction. While school taught me to have confidence in my intelligence and taught me research skills and how to communicate in writing, it did nothing for my confidence in my own creativity and ability to imagine things in detail. At my age (61)I don't know if I will ever catch on, but I love this group and am so inspired by all you hard-working members that I cannot imagine letting my membership lapse even when I'm not turning out any pages. Maybe if I keep coming, keep reading novels and how-to-write books, and keep trying to write, I will eventually catch on and get published, too.

Alice Sharpe said...

Barbara -- I think the key is to keep writing. There isn't a one of us, I don't think, who would deny our writing gets better just by doing it and doing it often. After you read something, write something to test what you learned. Practice, in other words!

I think it's great you are determined to succeed with it. That's inspirational to me.

Alice

Genene said...

Thank you all for sharing your stories. I love to hear how everyone else got started. They are all unique and inspirational!

Eli, perhaps selling "right away" is relative. Kind of like being an "overnight" success after working many years at something! You'll sell. Just be sure you let us know when you'll be on Oprah so we can get tickets to be in the audience!

Alice, I love your story. Writing confessions seems so racy. I want to turn down the lights and slip into something lacy then huddle over my keyboard. What fun!

Paty, I'm so glad you decided to join our group! What would be do without you? I've heard Fishtrap is fabulous. Wonder if they are any more tolerant of romances now?

Karen, I've heard so many good things about the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference that I want to go! Maybe 2008, since that is shaping up to be my traveling year. Got a chuckle over your reminder of how far you've come ...

Wavy, you're so right about other types of writing not being the same as writing a novel! I've heard other people say they dissected their favorite books. That seems like it would take a lot of patience.

Barbara, I'm so glad you're determined to continue writing. I agree with Alice -- that in itself is an inspiration. I wavered many times over the years and wondered if I was wasting my time. I think Awe-Struck E-Books is going to be a good fit for me because I can control so many pieces of getting my book produced that NY publishers would never allow a newbie to do. Makes the control freak part of my personality grin with anticipation!

Thanks, again, everyone, for sharing your stories!

Alice Sharpe said...

Genene -- LOL. MY first confession concerned a young woman dealing with her mother's cancer diagnosis. No lacy underwear required!

Piper Lee said...

Oh, I just love all of these fun stories about how you all learned how some of you are still learning.

That's where I'm at, still learning.

Without this chapter and RWA I'd not have a clue how to write. I look back on how I first started out and shudder. Ugh!

I've always had stories in my head, but never knew how to get them out properly. This is where being a member of RWA has been priceless. I, like Eli, remember my first meeting. I was so frightened just picking up that phone to call and talk to the president of the chapter then. It was Genene. Now I realize how silly it was to be scared to talk to her, but I was just freaking out. I attended my first meeting and knew I'd found what was missing. My second meeting was the same as Eli's first, with the Portland gals. I'm so glad that Eli felt that connection and joined. :) *big lump in throat* And now I've made so many wonderful friends that I'm going to, like Barbara, stick with it just so I can be a part of the wave of energy you all generate within this chapter. It's so much a part of my everyday life now that I can't live without it.

When I first got started writing "for real" I was writing with some gals on a website called "Electric Scotland". They asked me if I'd be a part of their group that shared the writing of a story. I was so excited and it was a lot of fun, until they started killing off characters. LOL I was the one writing the romance part of the story and they were into killing people off. So, we eventually quit writing that particular story and went our separate ways. I'm not a RS girl and they weren't exactly into romance. They're just lucky they didn't kill off any of my characters! :)

Then I got into a really heated argument with one of the jerks on that site and I never went back. He was such an a$$! If he would have been in the same room as me I'd have smacked him, hard!

Since then I've been moving forward, at a snails pace mind you, writing when the fancy strikes me, but mostly learning the craft. I've got a long way to go, but lots of time to get there, and with this chapter behind me, I'm set!

Thanks everyone for sharing your fabulous beginnings and thanks Genene for thinking of such a fun topic!

Alice Sharpe said...

"Then I got into a really heated argument with one of the jerks on that site and I never went back. He was such an a$$! If he would have been in the same room as me I'd have smacked him, hard!"

Okay, Piper, tell all, it's just not fair to dangle this out there and leave me...er, us....hanging. If no one else has called you on this, it shows either an extreme lack of curiosity on their part or simply reflects the fact you snuck in here after dark to leave this tidbit of jucinessliciousness.

Fess up! What happened???? I'm checking back here tomorrow....