January 11, 2018
A guest post by Stephanie Raffelock
For the past few years, I’ve been a committed student of story. Larry Brooks remains my great inspiration to learn the craft. He told me that I would probably have to write 4 or 5 novels to really integrate story structure.
In spectacular rookie fashion, I thought– nah not me. I won’t have to write that much for my talents to be discovered. And as if he were reading my mind he added, “talent is just the admission ticket.”
As beginning novelists, the hard truth that we don’t want to hear is: learning to write in a multi-dimensional, heavily nuanced art form like the novel is going to take a lot of practice. And I’ve discovered that writing things other than novels can serve that practice.
Writing Every Day: It’s exhausting to constantly work on a big manuscript. If you hang in there, you’ll learn that you can’t wait for the muse to show up, and a lot of days it’s just damn hard work and determination that gets you through the next scene. I’m a proponent of writing every single day, because practice is how you get better.
Creating In-between Days: Every 10 days I send off pages to my coach/mentor and then I have about three or four days where I don’t touch my big work-in-progress while I’m waiting for notes. On those days, I do a different kind of writing. I’m lucky to have a couple of blogs that publish my posts on a regular basis. I also write bi-monthly for a local newspaper.
What Blogs and Newspapers Can Do For A Writer: If you only have 600-650 words per article, you get word-efficient, quickly. Unless your curly prose turns into essential prose, you’ll never make your deadline. The process of writing for blogs and the newspaper is an immediate one. And the gift of that immediacy is focus. I don’t have the luxury of thinking about whether or not I have something to say, or if my work is good enough, or any of the other sucky things writers tell themselves.
Diversity: One of my favorite writers, the late Norah Ephron, wrote magazine essays, newspaper articles, screenplays and novels. Her stories were complete, her prose crisp and clean, and I’m convinced that part of what made her so good was that she wrote everything.
Fresh Ideas: The thing I love the most about writing for the newspaper, is that all of the articles are assigned. And thus far, none of the topics are things that I would have thought to write about on my own: burlesque, kayaking from Oregon to Alaska, an interview with a comic strip artist. There’s a story idea in each one of those things. I was hooked when the burlesque dancer I interviewed told me that she’d been adopted by a group of drag queens who taught her the business. I’m never going to run out of ideas if I keep doing this gig.
The quest to write novels, really good stories, is a journey of love that fuels purpose in my life. And writing essays, posts and articles often reveals a voice or a conviction that can inspire the larger project. Too, I have to admit, I like seeing my work published on sites other than my own, and the Tuesdays that the newspaper comes out, are always kind of a thrill.
I want to write everything.
One day I’ll investigate screenplays and comic books (one of many reasons to be thankful Art Holcomb is here with us on this site), just as a means of rounding out what I consider to be my writing education.
What about you? Do you work in forms other than the novel? Does that help or hinder your larger works? I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me in the comments section.
Stephanie Raffelock is a frequent and valued contributor to the conversation here on Storyfix. She is an aspiring novelist who writes about the transformational forces of life. She served an internship at The Boulder Daily Camera, and has been published in The Aspen Times and Quilter’s Magazine. She is a regular contributor on SixtyandMe.com as well as a contributing writer for The Rogue Valley Messenger. Stephanie is the Youth Programming Director for Oregon’s Willamette Writers, and maintains a board position with Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library. You can reach out to her at stephanieraffelock.com and @Sraffelock.