One of my favorite industry magazines, The Writer, never fails me, though I sometimes fall short of recognizing all that it has to offer. Sure, I dog-ear several articles in each issue, but, more often than not, I breeze through the last few pages, skipping over the Market listings and the Classifieds, barely glancing at the final column, “How I Write.” Sometimes I’m in a hurry to finish the magazine; sometimes I’m being aloof. If it’s at the end, I think, it can’t be that important. Either way, when I blow past that very last page, I risk the chance, as I realized with this month’s issue, of missing out on key advice.
In the March issue of The Writer, “How I Write” features an interview with Jacqueline Winspear, author of the successful series about Detective Maisie Dobbs. I don’t read mystery much, so I almost – almost – closed the cover of the magazine. But, something pulled at me to read her interview, and I’m glad I did. I grabbed on to three key pieces of advice that I desperately needed.
1. On Research
“If you let [research] dictate a story…you might as well be writing nonfiction. . . . If you are completely directed by research, you lost the story’s rhythm. If there’s no rhythm, there’s no dance.”
Every bit of writing, I’m learning, requires research. Even now, I’m working on a short story about a piano tuner. I’ve been bookmarking sites on the internet for the past several days on things like piano terms and anatomy, tidbits of information that are crucial in making the character believeable. But where Winspears words really hit home is in respect to a different project: I have an itch to write a historical fiction. I admit, I’m frightened, of the research involved, that I might not gather enough and get details wrong, that I won’t be able to make the story work. I could walk away from the project, easy (though the idea of it keeps resurfacing and refuses to be ignored). So, it helps to keep in mind that, while research is critical, it doesn’t necessarily drive the story.
2. On Fear
“Don’t make excuses. . . . Don’t be afraid . . . . After all, [what's] the worst that could happen?”
For me, fear can be infectious and lethal if left unattended for too long (see new project angst above). I have a few mantras that I repeat, under my breath, in moments of heavy self-doubt. One hints at my secret affinity towards a certain four-letter word. The other runs cleaner and is parallel to what Winspear says: what have I got to lose?
3. On the Job that Pays the Bills
“…[D]on’t underestimate the power of your day job; that structure and finite time for writing could be the best motivation you have.”
Boy, isn’t that the truth? The more time I have to kill, the less writing I get accomplished. But give me a crunch time of two hours (or less), and I can whip a whole draft of a story up onto the screen.
How about you? Catch any pearls of wisdom lately?