Yesterday, though she had no idea this was happening, best-selling fiction author Tawni O’Dell affirmed my resolution to “write it my way.” She insisted more than once that you cannot learn to write a novel in a classroom. “There is no process! I don’t have a process, so I can’t tell you what to do.”

I knew that. I make the point in The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing that we each have a unique writing style, and that we must find our way, work with it, and not let anyone intimidate us into believing otherwise. Nobody was telling me how to organize my material. Nobody was even suggesting. But I have been in danger of drifting into a formula approach, of writing what I think readers want rather than what feels right to me, and Tawni’s words seemed confirmation of my inner sense of things.

She explained also that she can’t write on a schedule, or “every day for four hours.” Her style is more along the lines of writing feverishly without stopping until her fingers are bloody stumps. At some point her characters go silent. She has to take a break and do other things, like walk, clean house, go on a reading binge. Her characters tell her when it’s time to get back to the keyboard. She cannot/will not even try to produce a novel a year. Her agent, editor and publisher know that is not her rhythm, and don’t push her. “Your work is worth waiting for. Do it your way.”

In memoir we don’t have characters quite the way fiction writers do. We have memories. Sometimes the memories grab me by the throat and drag me to my chair. Other times they tell me to go out and make more.

As she was delivering that message about the futility of classes for learning to write a novel (and by extension any larger project), she did say that classes are worth taking because you never know where you’ll find inspiration and it’s good to hang out with other writers. Writing is a lonely pursuit. I think she also said you can refine your wordcraft skills, like description, etc. Phew! That was welcome news since I teach stuff like that!

The best class, she claims, is the one you teach yourself, by reading voraciously with attention to structure and craft. It sinks in, almost by osmosis, and makes you a better writer.

Thank you Tawni!