Since the dawn of time, writers have spent their lives toiling in their own secret tribes and guilds, each clan claiming to have mastered the One True Art.
- Copywriters swore their kung fu was far more powerful than that sissy screenwriting nonsense, because if you can’t sell tickets to a movie, the movie doesn’t get made.
- Working journalists cranking out two stories a day scoffed at poets spending all week on five hippie lines about trees and clouds, while poets saw the mass-production lines of the Priests of the Inverted Pyramid as lacking any sort of soul or art.
- Romance authors gathered in huge, organized conferences while mystery novelists gathered in small secret groups to put a dent in the global bourbon supply while trading secrets and lies.
- Speechwriters clutched their tomes with 2,000-plus years of wisdom from Plato, Aristotle, Burke and countless other giants, who were inventing rhetoric and drama and comedy long before Syd Field arrived in Hollywood and Blake Snyder started saving cats.
To me, with a foot in all of these worlds, it felt false.
I got started in journalism and speech, my sister is a screenwriter and I have a great literary agent (Jill Marr!) after writing a novel that won some award.
It hit me, again and again, that I got better as a writer not when focusing like crazy on one thing, but by being exposed to other aspects that often would never have entered my mind as an option. Like hanging out with romance authors and editors, who have made me 100-times stronger as a writer. NOBODY COULD HAVE PREDICTED THAT.
Hear me now and believe me later in the week: There is no one supreme writing art.
There isn’t a single guru who can show you the Way after seven years of hard-core training.
To be fully armed as a writer, and to truly compete against all the other penmonkeys on this planet, you must be well-rounded.
I took what my sister taught me about screenwriting–structure and storytelling, the toughest thing to learn–and used it for speechwriting and opeds, to narrative non-fiction, because the inverted pyramid should be taken out and shot, and finally to fiction.
Because it works.
And believe me, from having a traditional background in most of these arts, it’s not enough to get a degree in (a) creative writing, (b) journalism, (c) screenwriting, (d) poetry or anything else.
It’s not enough to write every day, go to conferences and immerse yourself in the one thing you really want to do, whether it’s write mysteries about alcoholic detectives who are allergic to razors, romances involving men in kilts or sci-fi fantasies starring elves with lightsabers.
You’ve got to cross-train. Without the Brazilian jiu-jitsu of screenwriting and storytelling, your foundation will be weak, and no matter how pretty your words are, the structure will collapse under its own weight.
Without the power of persuasion from rhetoric, PR and copywriting, opposing writers will run circles around the ring, raining down jabs and leg kicks and left hooks that you never see coming.
And without the endurance of a novelist, you’ll never be able to tackle a mountain of 90,000 words, and the repeat trips up that mountain to edit and revise that sucker until it’s a shiny diamond made of words, to write a book.
It’s hard to explain a thing when you don’t have a name for it. “Cross-training for writers” didn’t do it for me.
MWA = writing as MMA = fighting.
That works for my simple Swedish brain. And if I help one writer out there struggling to pick a style and a guru, then these words will have served their purpose.
Because it’s wrong to see writers as separate tribes and competing clans. Unlike some crazed sports fans, we don’t celebrate our love for a team by beating up guys wearing the opposing side’s jersey. We writers tend to drink too much in hotel bars and get folks to sign their books, which is a better way to go, despite a nagging thought that it would be fun to see certain authors put on gloves and get into the ring to settle their literary feuds. You know, for charity.
Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.