…about genre.

When I first began writing last year and experienced writers asked me, “What’s your genre?” the answer was easy. I had one story I was burning to tell, and it was historical.

Now, though, the question is harder to answer, because, after I wrote that first novel, the next novel I wrote was a mystery. (At least, I think it’s a mystery. It has blackmail, a murder, a hitman, a couple of villains…but it also has a romance in it. Confusing.)

Ok. So, now my answer became, “historical and murder mystery.”

But writing short stories using writing prompts lately has muddied the waters. I’ve written fantasy and horror stories, and a couple that I can’t classify.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, please don’t ask what genre I write, because I don’t know any more.

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…about the language.

It should be a given that writers, like other craftsmen, should know how to use the tools of their trade: words.

It should be a given, but it isn’t.

In my own work, I sometimes find grammatical errors, misspellings and other evidence of lack of expertise with the language. And that is so unnecessary.

Books abound which contain advice and instruction on proper grammar. And dictionaries, both print and online versions, are readily available to help the writer with spelling and with selection of the proper word to use in a given instance. (Spellcheckers are of some help, but they cannot always determine which word is appropriate, i.e., “there,” “their,” or “they’re,” and are, therefore, unreliable.)

Since one of the first pieces of advice editors give regarding submissions is, “Make sure your manuscript is free of typos, misspellings and grammatical mistakes,” one would think writers would make working to acquire proficiency with the language a number one priority.

One would think so, but……

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…about research.

Write what you know, they say.

But what if the story you are burning to tell is set in a place where you have never been? Or in a time not your own? What if you don’t “know” the location or time period?

The answer to your dilemma is: research.

And while the research can provide valuable knowledge of the details you’ll need to include to make your story believable, it will also give you an opportunity to immerse yourself in the “world” of which you will be writing, to get to know the people of that time and place, to understand something of how they lived and what they did. And, perhaps, gain some insight into how they may have felt and what they may have thought. Which can lend an authenticity to your writing.

The amount of research necessary to write “High on a Mountain” seemed daunting when I started. But I found that the learning became an adventure in itself.

Now that the story has been finished, I’m beginning to delve again into the discovery of facts about another time and place and people, to prepare myself so that I can write the sequel to Ailean’s story. But this time, I know what an adventure the research can be, and I’m diving into it joyfully, whole-heartedly.

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…about writing prompts.

They look innocuous. They can seem somewhat flaky when taken at face value.

But they can be powerful.

I’m speaking of writing prompts, of course, those little spurs to creativity, those little words which get your story-ball rolling.

I’ve been so involved over the last few months in editing, rewriting and rewriting, in putting together pitches, in crafting what I hoped would be knockout query letters and synopses, that I’d forgotten what my primary desire and mission is: to write fiction.

So, I started last night, with the help of a couple of writing prompts, to loosen up those rusty writing muscles, to warm them up, to flex them and strengthen them in preparation for my personal NaNo in May. And while the results are not perfect, I’ve made a respectable start with my first two pieces.

It’s time to drag out the old thesaurus, make a pot of coffee and put on the earphones.

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…about characters.

Who are those people, anyway?

I’m speaking of the people inhabiting the shadows of your half-envisioned story. Those people, who, if encouraged, will take on form and substance, will become real in that shadowy story world of your mind. Those people, who, if given half a chance, will come alive, will make your story real, will make it believable and enjoyable to read.

The first time one of those cardboard cutouts, who I’d stood up in a scene for the benefit of my main character, said something I hadn’t planned for him to say, it freaked me out. I was afraid to tell anyone, for fear the men in white coats would be making an unscheduled visit to my front door. But I tentatively told a trusted confidante, who is a writer, and she assured me that it happens to writers — a character becomes real and takes on a life of his/her own, says or does things you, the writer, had not planned on.

Since that time, I’ve enjoyed the process of watching these imagined people become real in the story, and I’ve become attached to some of them, have come to know and like them. And have been reluctant to bid them “goodbye” when the story was finished.

And now, I’m starting the adventure again, coaxing each of the characters in my new story to come out of the shadows, to take on substance, to show me who they are and what they are like.

It makes the writing process seem more like a discovery than a creative venture.

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…about writers.

Writing can be an unusual undertaking.

And writers are, in some ways, unusual folks.

In most fields of endeavor, one encounters shades and nuances of rivalry, competition and, sometimes, even outright jealousy between contenders for a given prize. For writers, the sought-after award is usually publication of a piece of writing.

In working to attain that “reward,” I have not found rivalry nor competition among other writers who are also striving to be published. I have found, instead, that other writers form a built-in cheerleading squad, urging each other on, giving helpful advice and encouragement, and celebrating each milestone, each achievement.

How unusual that seems when compared to some human endeavors.

And how refreshing.

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