Advice for the Writing Life

Tops on my “To Do” list for summer: WRITE! Book Two of The Women of Beowulf is actually well along, but advice on “how to write” keeps coming my way. Last night on MPR I heard an author interviewed who had taught himself how to write by typing out other people’s stories word for word. He did this for two years. Such a regimen would drive me crazy!

In a book I recently picked up, Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life, he recommends reading all the great books as the best education for a writer. That, and learning how to use specific details. One of my favorite “how-to’s” is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which advocates that the writer address one thing at a time and just keep at it. Stephen King also had good advice in his book on writing, but I can’t now remember what it was!

My own technique for producing historical fiction is to research, research, research, and absorb, absorb, absorb. I spent five years doing this, including on-site exploration in Scandinavia, before writing Faces in the Fire, Book One of The Women of Beowulf. When my brain-sponge is almost full, I sit down, make a rough outline, and start squeezing.

(You may have heard that once you create characters they take on lives of their own. I’ve found this to be true. Mine love to talk, so dialogue is a prominent feature in my work.)

Interior writing – writing in my head – is also essential for me. I do it when I lie down to sleep, when I wake in the morning, when I’m driving a car. Scientists have fancy names for this process, but it is really just rehearsal – trying to get it right before going on stage.

My recommendation? Trial and error. It’s the only way to find what works for you.

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