I’m not an author by trade. Okay, let’s be honest, I’m not an anything-by-trade except a lit crit (of the professorial variety) and it’s been four years since I left academia (without the PhD). So who are we kidding—I’m just out here floating in a sea of words, clinging to a shabbily built life raft of experience, education, and a sense of “what feels right.”
However, land ho, writing advice ahead!
There’s no one way to write a novel.
And there’s no one way to read said novel.
Every writer carves out a process for themselves. We might devour a few craft books, we may try out a few things, and it’s possible we’ll fall back on weird superstitions along the way (for a long while, I wrote every book with hand-warmers, a scarf, and a hat—none of which remotely matched… because… I had to??) But at the end of the day, our writing is personal—and how we do it, even more so.
This blog is my cobbled-together process.
Some of it might be lyrical because that’s what I write. Some of it might feel like a class because that’s what I taught (one year as an undergrad at Alma College, two years as a grad assistant at Michigan State University, and two years as an instructor at Grand Rapids Community College). And some of it might be dripping in imposter-syndrome-induced caveats (like this intro) because that’s what I feel.
Sometimes you might want to take my advice with a grain of salt. Other times you might want a brick of it. But I’m hoping there are some nuggets in here that make it worth coming back around. At the very least, if we get to nerd out together about something interesting—or spark a question or two—then I’ll be happy.
I’m not published, I’m not a prof. Proceed with caution.
So, Ms. Rann, what’s all in the syllabus?
Call it a hazard of coming from academia, but meaning is my favorite. It’s what gets me excited about a piece of work—well, that and the romance, of course. And I achieve that meaning by being a #plantser. I use what I’ve learned about reading and critiquing to reverse-engineer my plot; then, as I’m writing, I pants the crap out of it. Chapters get longer, events get shuffled around, characters head off in completely uncharted directions. Writing gut take the wheel.
The borderland between the two is my favorite: recognizing patterns in my prose and then leveraging them with intent.
In other words, I harness my happy accidents and make them work for me. #WriteLikeYouDidItOnPurpose
Plain and simple:
I’m going to teach you how to close read.
Close reading is what English majors do (at least since the 1920s). We notice striking language, we analyze the patterns of it, and we explain to others why those meanings matter. Observation. Analysis. Synthesis. The building blocks of engaging with a piece of literature critically.
It’s what you continue to do in grad school, but there, those building blocks get tossed aside and you instead play with the overly complex lego multi-structures that are so complicated you don’t know why they’re even fun to begin with. Spoiler alert, they’re not. Unless you’re like deeply Ravenclaw. Lit theory is a bitch. But, admittedly some of it has shaped the way I see the world. So we’ll talk about that too. (But in a fun, probably going to throw some swear words at it kind of way.)
At this point, you might be having anxiety-riddled flashbacks to that time your prof made you analyze Shakespeare or write a ten page paper on Antigone. (Hi, guilty, my bad!)
But reading is a skill, not a content. And you can apply that skill to your own writing.
Let me tell you, close reading my #witchyhorrorromance novel was a hell of a lot more fun than discussing Heidegger. And my second draft was better for it. Heck, my first draft was better for it!
Here, you’ll find instruction and discussion on reading skills, literary devices, and lit theory. And then I’m sure I’ll have the random post or two in there reviewing some witchy books or other writing tools, like Scrivener and Beta Books. I’m here for the hodgepodge. My students got used to tangents… and me teaching barefoot. Thankfully the internet will spare you from the latter.
But most importantly, I’m here to have a wee bit of fun. To nerd out. To laugh and swear and have crazy discussions in the comments.
I hope this blog will help you write like you did it on purpose, but at the end of the day, I hope, at the very least, you have a little fun too.