By the topic title I don’t mean the act of writing books. I mean books about writing.
They have been pivotal to me. I didn’t go for that MFA–because I feared rejection–and I’m pretty sure I’m glad that I didn’t. From what I have seen, MFA programs can be a bit of a fish bowl, where students develop a style and voice in conjunction with each other, which is the opposite of what an emerging writer needs. Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, and if you’ve had a great experience with your MFA, then of course I stand corrected. Perhaps my feeling only results from envy that I never got one!
But I don’t think that last is true, because I found my way to the novels I write via my work in psychology. The intensity of the experience I had at that rural mental health center–the range of people I was able to come to understand–my exposure to psychopathology–all led me to suspense fiction as a medium.
Before practicing as a psychotherapist (which I did for thirteen years), I wrote poetry, I dabbled in short, plotless fiction, I had written a YA “novel” when I was a YA (at fourteen, that is, complete with illustrations in magic marker), and finally a Victorian-toned novella while I was reading the Victorians and hooking up with this guy who wasn’t particularly interested in me and onto whom I could hence project all sorts of futile, Victorian passions.
Nothing like the fits-a-niche, real, actualized novel that was taking shape in my hard drive.
Of course, I didn’t yet realize it fit a niche. That was the second thing my husband did for me.
The first was buy me a writing book. When I saw it–unwrapped it, for it was a gift–I sort of shrugged and said, “Well, I mostly read fiction.” As if he didn’t know that already! “I know,” he said. “I just thought this might be interesting.”
My husband is much more of a renaissance person than I am. He hungrily looks for new sources of stimulation and learning, whereas I tend to stick with what I know I love, with the few things I am truly good at.
But something made me open up that writing book, and within a few pages I was lost. I read the entire thing avidly. I devoured it. Each new page sent me running for my notes to jot down some things that would later appear in the Book. As soon as I finished, I asked, like a toddler, “Is there any more?”
As most writers know, there are indeed more, as many books on writing fiction as there is fiction itself–and then others on publishing, marketing, and the like–and I began to fly through those as well. It got to the point where books on writing were virtually all I read during the writing of a first draft, although I hadn’t established this practice quite yet.
All thanks to my husband, who’s willing to try almost anything new.
I’m going to take a pause over the weekend, since we’ll be away. Back on Monday to tell you about that second thing he did.