by Erica Vetsch, @EricaVetsch
I’m so excited to be blogging at Novel Rocket and getting to know the readers here better. I hope, along the way, we can learn from each other and become friends!
I’ve been writing fiction for…well, if I am honest, for most of my life, though not much of it in the early years ever made it onto a page. I did write a novel in a spiral notebook when I was fifteen—in that loopy, teenaged-girl script—but that story was pretty awful and should stay tucked away into a drawer.
When I first started writing for publication more than a decade ago, I was so green, I didn’t know there even were how-to books on writing, that writing better fiction could be learned, nor that with the burgeoning of the internet, so much instructional information on writing fiction was out there to be discovered.
I thought you just wrote down what you ‘saw’ in your head, and that it would make sense to everyone who read it and that they would love it.
Um. Yeah. Like I said, I was as green as the fairways at Augusta in early April. (For the non-golf fans among us, that super green!)
After my first contest entry results, (YIKES!) I quickly saw there was MUCH I needed to learn, so I dived right in, as I tend to do with most everything in my life. And I nearly drowned myself in information. Every book I found at my local library on how to write fiction, every blog post I read on an author or agent’s site, every workshop I attended or listened to online seemed to have a different slant, or view, or method of writing fiction.
Scrivener, snowflake, three-act structure. Plotting, pantsing, moral premise. Character first, plot first. Write from the middle, write from the end, write linear, write in layers. The hero’s journey, the LINDY-HOP, the Break-out Novel, a Novel in 30 Days, NaNoWriMo, and so many more. All this information was coming from successful novelists, so they must be right…right?
I’ll admit I became paralyzed by the multitude of opinions and options available. Which one was right, since it was clearly impossible to incorporate them all? Where should I place my focus? The target seemed elusive and mobile. What even defined ‘Good Fiction’?
The more I tried all these methods, the more convinced I became that I was a terrible writer. I no longer wrote for the joy of telling a story. My writing became academic, stilted, trying to follow everyone else’s methods and roadmaps for their stories.
When I first started writing fiction, I finger painted the words on the page for the sheer thrill of relating the vivid images in my head. The longer I studied how to write, the more my writing became ‘paint-by-number,’ filling in the prescribed areas with the prescribed colors, turning out a product that looked like the picture on the box, and had very little to do with the story in my head and heart.
My reading also suffered. I went from being a heart-in-my-throat-can’t-wait-to-turn-the-next-page-stay-up-all-night-three-books-a-week reader to a clinical, blue-pencil-wielding editor of every book I picked up. I began to notice every time a ‘rule’ was being broken, every time someone head-hopped or went overboard on description or started a scene with a dream or split an infinitive. There was no pleasure in reading because I couldn’t focus on the story. I could only see the possible method the author used to get there…or didn’t use, since they were clearly breaking one of those ‘rules’ I had so recently learned.
I began to wonder if I had ruined storytelling for myself. How could I rediscover the joy of both writing and reading if neither one was fun? If every time I picked up a book or sat down at the computer, all I could hear were the experts telling me how to do it?
I had to turn off the noise.
Not that it was easy. Well, putting away the how-to books was easy, but subduing the writer’s doubt that had risen up to swamp my enjoyment of writing was terribly difficult to accomplish.
I started with a new story idea, and every time I was tempted to criticize myself, I shut that down with the promise that anything I was doing ‘wrong’ now, I could put ‘right’ later. I reminded myself that I couldn’t edit a blank page, and that getting the words out was the most important thing. I told myself I had to trust my instincts, that I didn’t need to know the reasons why I was writing something the way that I was…I could figure that out later. And I told myself I was discovering my own method of writing a novel, which would be different from anyone else’s.
And to my amazement, my ‘discovery draft’ fell out of my head in just about five weeks. I lived that story, both when I was sitting at the computer to write it, and when I was away from the screen, letting the scenes and characters and events scroll through my head.
I was excited to write!
When I typed THE END, I knew there was still work to do, things to tidy up, but now, I could enjoy that as a separate process from the story-telling. I had broken through!
My joy of reading returned. I was less critical of other authors and less critical of myself. Because I realized that my process was my own, and that my process wouldn’t be static. My way of writing a novel, while largely solidified after more than thirty published works of fiction, is still changing and growing. And it is unlike any other. I could now go back to all those writing how-to book and glean what I found helpful and discard the rest. I could experiment with those methods while not shackling myself to them. I was free!
So, if you’re struggling with all the information put forth by authors, agents, publishers, creative fiction professors, et. al, or if you feel as if you’re not doing it ‘right’ when it comes to writing fiction, here’s my advice.
Preach some truth to yourself. All those rules and processes and ways to do things? They’re like the pirate code. They’re guidelines. Suggestions, really. They are someone else’s way of getting the story in their head onto the page.
Write your story. Write it the way you write. If you like to plot, then plot it! If you like to free-wheel it, then dive in and see where the story takes you. If you like first person, third person, past, present, or whatever, write that way. You can clean up the story afterwards, shine it up, edit it, and if you’ve broken a rule or two, decide if you did it on purpose or if it needs to be tidied up.
The more you write, the better you will hone your instincts, and the less editing you will need to do later, but if you’re just starting out, and you’ve gorged on all the ‘how-to’ books you can stand, it’s time to put them away and just WRITE!
Fashion artist Priscilla Hutchens has a grudge against the army that has ruined her family and taken the people she holds most dear. When her twin niece and nephew are left orphaned at Fort Bliss, Texas, she swoops down on Fort Bliss to gain custody of them immediately.
There is just one thing standing in the way—Post surgeon Major Elliot Ryder, who is also the twins uncle, also claims the children and thinks he knows what is best for them.
Priscilla and Elliot will cross swords, but each will have to lay down arms if they are to find a lasting peace on which to form the family both are longing for. Who will win the battle? Or will a truce be called for the sake of love and family?
ERICA VETSCH can’t get enough of history, whether it’s reading, writing, or visiting historical sites. She’s currently writing another historical romance and plotting which history museum to conquer next! You can find her online at www.ericavetsch.com and on her Facebook Page where she spends WAY TOO MUCH TIME! www.facebook.com/EricaVetschAuthor/