Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Kate Forsyth's Three Ts of Writing

Later this year, Kate will be headed off for a wonderful week in Fiji where she will be teaching a Writing Masterclass.

When I’m teaching or talking about what a writer needs, I describe what I call ‘The Three Ts of Writing’.

The first of these is TALENT – and I believe this is something you are born with. It manifests itself in a love of books and words and language, a strong and vivid imagination, a desire to transcribe the fleeting moment.

The second is TECHNIQUE. Writing is a craft, and like sculpture or music or carpentry, it can be taught. A writer’s toolbox includes spelling, grammar, syntax, story structure, knowledge of genre, an understanding of the balance of the three narrative functions. A writer can be taught how to craft strong and supple sentences, how to build tension, and how to create characters that will never be forgotten. Lots and lots of writers have an abundance of raw talent, but unlike sculptors or musicians or carpenters, they think that’s enough. It’s not. Writers must learn their craft if they wish to stand out in a crowded and competitive market-place.

Luckily there are lots of books on writing, and lots of writing courses that can help you hone your craft. The other advantage of writing courses or workshops is that you can meet other people who share your obsession with what can be a very lonely occupation. No many people I know – apart from other writers – can have a passionate discussion about Plot Holes and how to fill them, or argue about the necessity of the Midpoint Reversal. And of course, it’s always wonderful to have somebody else look at your work with a clear and compassionate eye, and put their finger on exactly what is wrong with your manuscript when you’ve been bothered about it for months.

The third is TENACITY. It takes a certain kind of stubbornness to labour over the writing of a novel for a year, or two, or five, and send it through rejection after rejection, and never lose faith in yourself. In fact, the whole process is enough to break your heart. However, if you can just hang in there, and put the work into the novel, and hone your craft as a writer, and suffer the bitter disappointments that will inevitably come your way, I do believe you’ll get there in the end. A surprisingly number of writers get by with only a small amount of TALENT, an average level of TECHNIQUE, and lots of TENACITY. If you have all three, you’ll be unstoppable!

Tips for Improving Your Writing Technique
• read as much and as widely as you can. The more you read, the more finely you will hone your instinctive understanding of what works and what doesn’t and why. You will also be feeding your mind!
• write every day if you can (it is like a pianist playing scales - the more you write, the more fluidly you write and the easier it seems). Also, writing begets writing. The more you write, the more you want to write – ideas will start coming all the time and inspiration will spark.
• read books about the craft of writing. Some suggestions:
Steering the Craft, Ursula le Guin
On Writing, Stephen King
Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft, Jane Yolen
Making Stories, Sue Woolfe and Kate Grenville
Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster
Writing Tools – 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark

• Join or form a writing group. They can be great motivators, because you need to prepare something for presentation every week. They also brings you in contact with other people who can support you and critique your work.
• Subscribe to writing magazines and literary journals, especially in your main area of interest (i.e. if wanting to write fantasy, subscribe to fantasy magazines such as Aurealis) These magazines accept unsolicited stories for publication so once you have an idea of what style and structure they are looking for (i.e. length of story), then submit some of your stories for possible publication. This will give you a chance to practice your tenacity!
• Enrol in a writing course or writers retreat – I am running one on Fantasy Writing in Fiji in July this year. For a tax deductible $2,380 you get daily morning workshops, afternoons free to write and dream and chat with other participants, plus all accommodation, domestic flights, and meals.



Havock21 said...

Nice, No , that's not eve close, my ability, well, really who knows, but all the rest make o much bloody sense its not funny. UNFORTUNATELY, grammar, diction, pelling and so forth, I am woe full,NO!, thats NOT even close either. I guess I fal into the little group fr ho, up is the only way to go.

Enjoyed that, learnt something new and alas, I hall not be making the trip to Fiji, but its hellishly tempting, that's for sure.

Flinthart said...

Havock: trust the Kate. Not only is she gorgeous, but she knows whereof she speaks.

The desire you've got. The imagination you've got. Things like grammar, diction, spelling, etc, can be learned. It's a matter of practice. And that comes under Kate's final T for Tenacity.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dirk's right, Havock.

You can't teach someone that indefinable spark that brings a story to life, but you can teach them spelling and grammar!

Go, Kate!

Karen said...

Loved your BlOG ... the 3T's.
Makes you analyse your own qualities.
Tenacity ...I have a Truck Load
Technique...Honing/improving each day
Talent... Very subjective. Can you coax the imagination from your soul?? God,I hope you can!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Kate! Another skill as a writer is being able to articulate the intricacies of the craft, which can be quite tricky, and you do particularly well :)


Sheryl Gwyther said...

Thank you, Kate and Rowena for providing this interesting piece. Neat way to pull all those strands together.

Satima Flavell said...

One of the best Instant Writing Lessons I've read. Thanks very much, Kate and Rowena!