I want to be a writer–a real writer. I wanted to write when I was in high school. I wrote a few short stories, and my English teacher then said they were “good.” I had no more feedback than that. I went to college, majored in music and in English, but ended up with a bachelor’s in English only. (Long story, and perhaps another entry.) But all my writing was academic writing, and my professor said, “You write–and think–well.” No more feedback than that. So, I can write.
Then how come it’s so danged hard to put words on paper, or the computer screen, as it were? I am a book junkie, and I can binge on Regency/historical romances for days at a time (yes, I eventually reach saturation and move on to something else, but still, I will read those “formula” books as if they were masterpieces. Some of them are quite good, though.). And when I finish them, I tell myself, “I can do that well!” And then I try, and I struggle.
Lately, I’ve read the published Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and she is a wonderful writer, so much craft in her writing. And then, there’s Sara Donati’s Wilderness series–another beautifully written book. Yesterday, I started reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Where have these books been all my life?
So, what have I learned about writing from these writers (and from the formula romance writers)? First, the best of the books are believable–believable characters, believable plots (even though Gabaldon does ask us to put aside our “disbelief” while reading about time-travel). Second, the writers know their stuff–the settings, the history, the character of the times. Gosh, the history that Gabaldon and Donati and Kearsley include in their books makes my head spin! But then I think of history as a story whose plot unfolds through the actions and words of the characters/personages. Moreover, history is not just the famous people, but the ordinary human beings whose lives are lived moment by moment and affected by the “big” stuff and the small stuff that makes up history. History is not just a series of facts to memorized.
I have been fascinated by the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of Britain. The writers–Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron, Shelley, the Brontes (especially Emily and Wuthering Heights), the Pre-Raphaelites (Christina’s “Goblin Market,” Dante’s paintings, the various renditions of Ophelia and the Lady of Shalott), even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Stoker’s Dracula–these are the things that capture my imagination.
Other twentiethy century writers who capture my imagination: Daphne Du Maurier, Victoria Holt–Gothic writers who can spin a good tale and draw one into the story world.
But it’s hard to be that kind of writer. The craft of writing is difficult. But it’s part of the story-telling that I want to do. (It’s not all photography for me!) I’m working on the craft, studying the writers, figuring out what works for me. Now, all I have to do find the words.