Wednesday, June 20, 2012

4 WOW Wednesday: Catherine Knutsson on Putting Your Writing First

Today's WOW guest, Catherine Knutsson, is the author of SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, which came out this month from Atheneum. She lives on Vancouver Island, where she spent most of her life, aside from short stints living in Iran and in Vancouver. When she's not writing, she runs (she's currently aiming for her first 10k in June, and then a half-marathon either in October or Spring 2013). She also rides horses (not as often as she'd like, these days), hikes, gardens, takes photographs, and bakes bread. And, sometimes she knits, and sometimes she paints. Oh, and she's a classically trained singer (early music specialist) and taught singing for years. (She really needs to learn to do something, right? You can find her on her website at

Putting Your Writing First

by Catherine Knutsson

Before I was a writer, I was a singer. And, one of the greatest gifts my musical studies gave me was the Alexander Technique. For those who have never heard of it, the Alexander technique is a way of learning to use your body and rid it of harmful and/or excess tension. That’s probably the simplest way of describing Alexander, but really, it’s so much more than that. Lots of singers and dancers taken Alexander training (the conservatory where I trained had an Alexander teacher on staff and we received weekly Alexander lessons as part of our movement classes) because not only does it help with performance, but it extends to the connection between mind and body and spirit, and has so much to teach about living life in a more holistic way. And, for those of us who work in the sometimes crazy-making world of the arts, well, any tool to help connect body/mind/spirit is wonderful!

So, there be the nuts and bolts.

But, what I wanted to write about specifically is something my Alexander teacher brought up all the time, something that’s a particular bugaboo of mine: end gaining. End gaining is a term used in Alexander to describe what a lot of us do: worrying so much about the goal that the process, which is where our focus should be, gets lost. Back in my singing days, end gaining, for me, meant obsessing about the roles I should learn and what voice type I was, when, in fact, I should have been devoting that energy to becoming a better singer. Learning a role is moot when you haven’t yet got the technique to perform said role.

For writers, this translates in a lot of ways: Worrying about market. Worrying about genre. Worrying about branding yourself. Worrying about sales. Rinse, and repeat.

I catch myself doing this all the time, and what’s amazing is how I can justify my end gaining: I’m researching. I’m studying. I’m learning about market. I MUST read my Goodreads reviews.

All of which, I’ve come to realize, really is an excuse for not dealing with what really needs to be dealt with: developing my craft. Staying in the moment. Putting one word after the next. Making my story the best story it can be.

The thing is, there’s a place and a time for everything. At some point, a writer needs to research agents, and editors, and publishers, and a writer needs to be aware of marketing, and how to write a query letter (which, I think, is a very important part of craft!), and creating an on-line presence and all the things we’re told we need to do. But, for me, I know that it’s easy to become so focussed on all that other stuff that I forget about what needs to be done right now: write. the. blinkity-blank. story.

Like anything else, learning not to end gain is a process. Slowly and surely, I’m getting better at it, because, as Anne Lamott says, the only way you get anywhere with any artistic pursuit is bird by bird, or, in the case of writers, word by word. Yes, it’s good to educate oneself about what happens when you get an agent, or get a deal, or have a book out in the world. Education is never amiss! But, sometimes what passes as education is merely a way to avoid getting the words down on the page. The words need to come first - before Twitter, before Facebook, before establishing an internet presence, before marketing and press and all that good stuff.

So, note to self: words first. The rest will come.


  1. That's something I know, but I constantly need to be reminded. And you say it so eloquently. Thank you!

  2. Words first. Words first. Words first. If I remind myself enough times, will I finally quit wandering off on research/marketing/networking tangents? *hopes*

    Thanks for this, Catherine -- a great reminder. Off I go to work on writing the blinkity-blank story. ;)

  3. Well said! So important, and yet it's easy to let myself get sidetracked by the internet noise of "shoulds". Thank you for the reminder!

  4. I'm guilty of getting sidetracked thinking about researching agents, etc. when I should be focusing on making sure my book is absolutely ready to send out. You're right that the words need to come first!


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