… in the wrong hands is a dangerous thing. Alexander Pope in An Essay on Criticism, 1709

I’m taking a course on GMC that requires some intense concentration as I figure out my heroines’ internal and external conflicts – not an easy thing for me to do, especially in the manuscript I’ve chosen. I chose it BECAUSE I knew it had problems and I wanted to identify them in the course (otherwise why take the course, right?) It’s making my head spin as I’m cramming the material into my brain and trying to make sense of it. (No, it’s not the instructor’s fault, she’s giving great examples. I take full responsibility.)

Trouble is I think my brain is full, and as I shove one piece of information in, more leaks out the other side. You see, I just finished another course on writing love scenes (actually there was little to do on that one, but digesting the posts exercised the grey matter more than usual.) In June, I did two – yes TWO – pitch courses. In the couple of months before that, I participated in a course on Writing Erotica by Janet Miller (an excellent course, and an excellent instructor, by the way), another on Sex between the Pages by Mary Buckham – she’s great too. I’ve done courses on the Royal Navy in Georgian times, and another on Regency Gentlemen, and one on Great Beginnings. (I know I’m forgetting others I’ve done this spring.) I’m registered for a Margie Lawson in-person workshop next Saturday on Empowering Character Emotion. And I’ve just signed up for another Mary Buckham course on Power Pacing.

I’ve attended TRW meetings and in the past few months have taken notes while listening to Molly O’Keefe discuss The First 5 Pages, Margaret Moore discussing Romance 101 – the basics of writing a romance, Claire Delacroix talking about how to write synopses, another speaker on screenwriting.

Let’s not forget the workshops I took in Dallas – Tami Cowden’s The Heroes we Love, Jane Porter’s Alpha Heroes (I missed the Heroines portion because of my pitch session) but both were excellent, Mary Buckham, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Dianna Love Snell’s Power Pacing, workshop, Writing the Hot Historical with a team of authors, Writing from Foreign Climes with Kathryn Smith, Stephanie Laurens and Anna Campbell, a course on using the Myers-Brigg system for creating characters with depth – there were so many I couldn’t begin to list them all here. Oh, and to make matters worse – yes, it’s my own fault – the disks of the Dallas workshops arrived a few days ago so I’ve been listening to some of the workshops and Publisher Spotlights I’d wanted to attend but missed.

When I joined the TRW I’d already been a member of another writers’ circle. I knew about passive verbs vs active verbs, I knew about voice, my grammar is good (I used to teach grammar! ‘Drug’ is NOT and never will be the past tense of drag!!!! Yeah, you have to be in a very select group to understand that rant.) So anyway, to get back on track – I knew about tense and POV; I understood the ‘show don’t tell’ premise (which is another blog entirely. *grumble grumble*)

But after all this ‘education’ I am now ready to throw up my hands in despair. All my creativity – and worse my confidence – has been totally stymied by it all.

To bring it back to the horoscope – a little knowledge has become a very dangerous thing to my self-confidence and my writing. Basically my brain feels like mush, and I am almost afraid to write anything because it’ll be ‘wrong.’ I feel like I need to have every point on a chart or a sticky note, I need graphs and maps and … well, you get the point.

So I am going to take heart something Robin Perini said during her Turning Points workshop in Dallas – thank goodness for the disks and the handouts. At the start of the workshop, Robin quoted John Gardner, and she’s very graciously given me permission to post it and her comments here (I’m hoping I got them right when I transcribed them):

What a writer wants is a set of rules on what to do and what not to do when writing fiction. What one begins to be persuaded is that certain things must never be done in fiction and certain other things must always be done. Once you do that then one has entered the first stage of aesthetic arthritis, the disease that ends in pedantic rigidity, and the atrophy of intuition. John Gardner

Pedantic rigidity. Atrophy of intuition. Wow! I love those words! I couldn’t have said that better myself because my creativity certainly feels atrophied. And my writing certainly seems pedantically rigid this month.

And then Robin added:

There are no rules people! There are no rules.Do not let someone tell you their way is the right way. If something is working for you, do not let someone tell you that another way is the right way. If somebody in one of these workshops says this is the only way to do something, run don’t walk to the nearest exit. Trust your instincts.


I’ve been lucky – I’ve only attended one workshop where the instructor said you had to follow the rules she presented, that you’d never get published if you didn’t.

Come to think of it, when Molly O’Keefe was looking at the list of things we’d heard that must or mustn’t be done, she said: “They’re not rules, they’re tools. Use them as you will, ignore if you want.”

And back in January – my first exposure to the RWA – Margaret Moore started her talk on Romance 101 saying the same thing as Robin does in her workshop: Any author who teaches a course on writing is telling you what works for HER. It may not work for you. So take what you want, feel free to discard anything I say. Use what works for you.

Yes, I might need to learn about various techniques used in writing; there are ‘rules’ I need to perfect. But I also need to remember Candace Haven’s advice that ‘it’s okay to write a crappy first draft.’ Things can be fixed in revision.

Maybe that will help me re-discover the sheer joy of writing that has been beaten out of me lately.

A little knowledge …
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4 thoughts on “A little knowledge …

  • August 29, 2007 at 11:55 am

    That’s why when I critique I always say to the writer use what you want and discard the rest.

    If you try to do what someone else tells you to do, your voice will be lost. Go with the flow babe, go with the flow. Take what you need ignore the rest.

  • August 29, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Amy, you must have read today’s “writing Tip of the Day::
    When you receive critical advice or feedback about your writing, learn to evaluate it then follow your instincts.

    LMAO! Isn’t that ironic! And yeah, I’ve learned to do that in critiques. It’s the techniques and tools I’ve inundated myself in that have overwhelmed me. I really need to step back from them for a while. (I just checked out Debra Dixon’s Goal Motivation and Conflict book – cheapest you can get it through Amazon.ca is $140 bucks! Yikes! (none through Chapters of course.))

  • August 29, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I do hope you find your joy again. That freedom to write whatever comes up is one of the best feelings in the world.

    -Candy Havens

  • September 3, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Oh crap. It’s no wonder my productivity is nil. I’m flying by the seat of my ignorant pants!!

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