Writing: An Informal Tutorial
I’ve always loved to write.
Going back to High School. I first tried to write a novel when I was about 13 years old. I stopped after about four pages. There were several reasons: 1) my handwriting decomposed into some sort of indecipherable sanskrit after about two paragraphs, 2) I had no sense of timing, things just happened too fast, and 3) the story sucked.
But, stubbornly, I still desired to write.
Then I wrote a short story my senior year in High School and my English teacher (one who was known for being very, very good for many years) told me she waited her whole career to get a paper like mine. She gave me an A+++. I tried again in college, but I just wasn’t good enough for the “big time.” But in my late twenties I tried again, first a screenplay (I started out as a film major in college), then another, then a kids’ story (which in a later iteration, almost sold to Penguin), then Mean Spirits, my first full length novel which I published through iUniverse. The book rose to the number one selling ghost story on Amazon several months after its introduction. After that, I wrote Baby Boomer Bust?: How the generation of promise became the generation of panic, my only non-fiction book, about the 2009 meltdown and how it affected and would affect my generation going forward. And now, after working on it for twelve years, my latest book, Time Framed , which has gotten very positive — and sometimes even great – reviews.
It was a long and arduous process. I took writing courses in college, took a writing tutorial at NYU as an adult where I worked one-on-one with a great writer/editor named Martha Hughes. Then I worked with another excellent development editor, Diane O’Connell (who invited me to speak at a seminar for the American Society of Journalists and Authors). Through iUniverse, I came to know Caron Knauer, a superb developmental editor, who helped me immensely on my kids book and Baby Boomer Bust and Time Framed. And then, Molly O’Donnell, a combination PHd/Copyeditor who copy-edited and helped with some highly significant last-minute developmental editing on Time Framed.
My point is this: while there are many lonely hours for a writer spent only in the company of her/his keyboard, it can’t be done alone. You need help. And luckily I found great help during my writing sojourns.
I do have to say this, though: many writers write for the wrong reasons. They read that J.K. Rowling is a billionaire (or was) and they think if only they could find the time to sit down and get their story out of their gut and onto paper, they’ll make millions. It doesn’t work that way. Once a very talented advertising creative director/copywriter told me, “writing has to be its own reward.” And he was absolutely correct. To truly be a writer, you have to enjoy sitting behind that keyboard and creating: crafting great sentences, turning words into pictures in the reader’s mind, reading and editing your draft from the night before the next morning. If these things get you excited, then you have the potential to be a writer.
Okay, so that was a long windup to my actual message. I’ve always thought about working with young fiction writers, teaching some kind of course or seminar or tutorial. Why haven’t I done so? Well, although it’s a copout, life sometimes gets in the way. Or when it doesn’t, I can talk myself out of it because I don’t have a formal degree in writing. But then I thought a little more. I’ve spent many more hours than I ever spent in college or grad school tapping away at a keyboard and trying to craft a story.
So I decided to do it, not as a class, but as a blog. A writing tutorial for aspiring authors. Each week (or so) I’ll write a new installment. Here’s my current thinking on my “syllabus.”
- Concepting a Story
- Getting Started: Battling the QWERTY Monster
- The Sentence: Making it Sizzle
- The Paragraph: Making it Whole
- Creating Images in Your Readers’ Minds
- Characters and Dialogue: Making them Real
- Storytelling: The Sine Qua Non
- Editing: Making it Work Better and Better
So that’s my “syllabus” for now, but, as I said, it’s subject to change. I hope those of you who aspire to write — for the right reasons — read a little bit of my writing tutorial.
I think it could help. At least you might avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way – LOL!