I’ve been thinking lately about how writers learn the craft of fiction. Some set out on their journey with formal education and during the learning process complete their MFA, but I’d imagine that the majority of authors begin with an idea and start writing.
For me it started as an idea for a novel that I began sketching during lunch breaks from work. I started visiting the local library and reading many of the books about fiction, creative writing, editing, revision, and other more specialized topics like How to Write a Thriller Novel.
I cranked out my first draft relatively quickly during that first summer of writing and started sharing my creation with willing readers. I spent that winter revising and edition and the following spring took an Intermediate Fiction Workshop. It was in this class that I began to realize my work of art needed some work. The instructor had her Phd. in English and while she, and my fellow classmates gave good feedback on the issues I needed to address none of them knew much about Commercial Thriller Fiction.
I continued writing and rewriting, and eventually realized my first attempt at a novel was in need of a major rewrite. It was at this point that I went back to the library to read all the rest of the books in the writing section. Soon afterward I started reading all the authors I’d heard of who wrote bestselling thrillers.
A few months later after reading a novel by Raymond Chandler I came across a real life news story about a woman who had murdered her husband and set up her lover to take the fall for his murder. This true-life story intrigued me and I downloaded several articles about the trial of this woman who’d been free for ten years after committing her crime.
I started this new novel differently from the first, which still resides in a bottom drawer of my desk. I bought a notebook and wrote 150 pages of backstory about the man who would be gunned down in the prologue. The story began in a Noir tone with a PI and showed the influences of Raymond Chandler.
A few months later with a 27-page outline, and an Excel spreadsheet with character sketches for all of the main characters in my hand I set down to write the first draft. During the past 18 months I’ve completed multiple drafts of the new novel and am currently working on what I hope will be one of the final drafts before I begin querying agents or make the decision to self publish.
In studying this topic both through my own learning experiences and those of writers I have met along the way I’ve come to the conclusion that the craft of writing is not learned in a linear fashion. It is learned more in a series of steps like those on a staircase.
A beginning author learns most through criticism from his readers or members of his critique group, and by reading the work of his peers. We debut authors are lucky because when we encounter a problem in our writing all we have to do is pick up a book and see what the guy before us did to fix the problem.