Writing is an art, and therefore mysterious and intuitive. But it is also a craft, like building a cathedral or weaving a tapestry. And just like any other craftsperson, a writer must acquire the tools of their trade.
Learning how to best use these tools is part of the writer’s journey towards mastery … and it does not matter how long you’ve been writing or how many stories you’ve created. There is always something new to be discovered (and sometimes re-discovered).
I have written more than forty books, of all shapes and sizes, and every single one has thrown up new problems to be solved and required new skills to be learned. And, of course, what can be learned can also be taught. I love teaching creative writing; I love seeing that moment of epiphany on someone’s face when something that had been incomprehensible suddenly becomes pellucid.
I have taught barefoot children in schools with dirt floors and lectured to academics from all over the world at Oxford University. I have run writing retreats in Fiji, Greece and the Cotswolds, and given masterclasses from Aberystwyth to Alice Springs, Chicago to Chichester, Singapore to the Scottish Borders. In Australia, my home country, my workshops have been known to book out in minutes.
Yet every single workshop I teach will be different. Until I meet the people who have come to spend one hour or one day or a week of their lives with me, I will not know what it is that they need. Often they do not know themselves.
How to create characters that seem alive. How to spin a story that is so riveting, so compelling, that the reader becomes addicted to it, unable to stop turning the pages, wishing it would never end. How to still the shrill voices in your head and find that place of intense and single-minded focus. How to control your reader’s physiological reactions to your story, so that their heartbeat quickens and the hairs stand up on their skin.
Words are nothing more but black marks on white paper, and yet they have the power to enchant, seduce, anger, disgust, and reduce to tears. Margaret Atwood said ‘a word after a word after a word is power.’
So find your hammer and chisel, sharpen your axe and your auger, lay out your squares and templates, and prepare to learn how to design the architecture of your own imaginary cathedral.
KATE FORSYTH led a popular Pre-Conference workshop at the 2017 HNS NA Conference in Portland, Oregon.