When I first decided many years ago to have a try at fiction, I realized that I would have to do things differently from what I knew as a journalist. For instance, what was this “voice” that everyone talked about? If anything, journalism, as I learned it, was anti-voice.
I did a crash immersion by attending the Wesleyan Writers’ Conference, where mystery writer Joe Hansen provided the most solid advice. He said that voice mattered. That scenes in cars were boring as were telephone conversations. That rules were there but meant to be broken, as needed. I met other aspiring writers, and learned that writers are not the most social of people. And the rest, well, it felt a bit “writerly” to me.
Undeterred, I went to a daylong Connecticut Writers Workshop at Trinity College, where the biggest takeaways were connecting with a fellow New York Times freelancer and hearing that it takes many drafts to get to the final manuscript—illustrated by an author (whose name I forget) pointing to a three-foot stack of paper. Good, but not a push toward fiction. In all fairness to the event, I was inspired to enter a short-story writing competition and placed as a finalist with the Connecticut Writers’ Association.
In phases of my life, I’ve done writing groups, an annual writing retreat. Now, I favor intense, long lunches with my writing friends and occasional runaway days by myself or a best bud writer, to recharge and shift scenery. I try to avoid the Ten Helpful Tips blog syndrome and stay clear of the plague of Let Me Tell You How to Write workshops. Too much of the same information. If I want general inspiration, well there’s plenty in the memes that circulate on Twitter and Pinterest. From Bukowski to Dickinson to Thoreau to Anne Lamott.
There are times and places and programs that have been invaluable to me, but what I value now are my trusted readers who will tackle the sticky chapters or brave the full manuscript for that all important, “does it work” feedback.