Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Find What Works For You by Adrienne Kress

I remember in University as a theatre major there was this one fellow student in my class who would take copious notes as our instructors would explain the point of a certain acting exercise. He would then raise his hand and ask something along the lines of: “If I do this, will this make me a good actor?” The instructors of course could never answer “yes”. Acting, like anything in the arts, requires the artist to find his or her own best way to improve his or her skills. There is no one right way to becoming a good actor. There are exercises that can be suggested, techniques worth trying, but ultimately not everything works for everybody.

This is the inherent problem, and freedom, in working on any artistic pursuit. On the one hand there's no one right way to go about doing it. On the other . . . there's no one right way to go about doing it. This is where creativity meets frustration. And the latter can become paralysing. Especially when you look around and see so much advice offered that seems very black and white.

As an author I have come across every kind of advice from “You must write every day” to “Write what you know” to “Never use a passive voice” etc etc and so forth. And there is value in almost any advice out there . . . if it works for you.

The thing is, teachers, bloggers, fellow authors (points at self), for the most part our intentions are good. We want to help. We want anyone who wants to be a writer to find their way in to being a writer. So we offer tips and thoughts and things that worked for us, but we simply cannot tell you with any kind of certainty what will work for you. None of us has the magic wand, none of us can figure it out for you. All we can do is offer some tricks, some exercises, some metaphors that may or may not resonate with you. And then it is up to you to choose what works for you.

So how do you know what works for you? Ah, see there's the part of this piece where we introduce the twist. One might think the solution is to listen to no one and just push ahead with our own plans. But I suggest otherwise. I suggest: we try. We try as much as we can and then collect those things that really worked and discard those that didn't. Heck I wouldn't even say “discard”. It's more like put them away in a box just in case you find you might need them at some point when all your usual tools fail you (and oh, they will fail you at some point because that's the fun part of being creative :P). It means that while we need to approach advice with a healthy dose of skepticism, we also need an equal measure of openness. We need to set our ego aside even if we really do think there's no way this particular technique will work for us. We need to embrace trying.

We also need to embrace failure and the knowledge that if something doesn't work then that's awesome because we now learned something new.

Another story:

I once was in the audience for an event that featured authors Stephen King and John Irving. At the Q & A portion of the evening someone asked:

Audience Member: What method do you use for coming up with a story?
King: Well it's sort of like this - I see a string sticking out of a hole in the wall, and I pull and I pull and I pull until I find out what's at the other end of the string.
Audience Member: And Mr. Irving?
Irving (offering a sideways glance at Mr. King): Well I guess you could say I'm the opposite. I'm not pulling on that string until I know what's on the other end of it.

Basically what we have here is King describing himself as a seat of the pants kind of writer, just starting writing and seeing where it takes him, and Irving describing himself as an outliner, making sure he knows what he is going to write before he does. These techniques are polar opposites and yet have worked wonderfully well for both authors. I'm not sure how the audience member felt with this answer as it is the sort of answer that can drive people who are just starting out a bit crazy. Because basically it offers no help. It doesn't offer an obvious path. It doesn't wave a magic wand. But I loved it because it gave a kind of permission to just go with whatever felt right for you. To know that others out there likely use your same technique just as yet others do not. And that that's okay.

In the end you need to figure out what you'd rather do, pull on the string and see what's on the other end, or know what's there the whole time. Or, heck, a combination of both, know what's on the other end, but nothing about the string itself. Or maybe there was no string in the first place! The possibilities! Yay extended metaphors.

One of the hardest things we as authors face is self doubt. And we don't need to add the fear that we aren't really doing it right. That we are frauds, that other authors are more “real” for using certain techniques. In the end, what makes you a writer is writing. Is creating. However you get there, is how you get there. If you need to stand on your head for half an hour and then eat toast buttered on both sides, and then dictate a chapter into a 1980s tape recorder, then that's what you have to do.

Don't judge yourself.

Don't judge others.

Do the work.

Keep an open mind, be brave, revel in failure and celebrate your successes.

And just keep writing.

About the Author

Adrienne Kress is a Toronto born actor and author who loves to play make-believe. She also loves hot chocolate. And cheese. Not necessarily together.

She is the author of two children's novels: Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate (Scholastic) and is a theatre graduate of the Univeristy of Toronto and London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in the UK. Published around the world, Alex was featured in the New York Post as a "Post Potter Pick," as well as on the CBS early show. It won the Heart of Hawick Children's Book Award in the UK and was nominated for the Red Cedar. The sequel, Timothy, was nominated for the Audie, Red Cedar and Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards, and was recently optioned for film. She's also contributed to two anthologies in 2011: Corsets & Clockwork (YA Steampunk Romance short story anthology, Running Press Kids), and The Girl Who Was On Fire (an essay anthology analysing the Hunger Games series - Smart Pop).

Her debut YA, The Friday Society (Penguin), was released in the fall of 2012 to a starred review from Quill and Quire. And her quirky romantic YA, Outcast (Diversion Books), released in June.


About the Book

After six years of “angels” coming out of the sky and taking people from her town, 16-year-old Riley Carver has just about had it living with the constant fear. When one decides to terrorize her in her own backyard, it’s the final straw. She takes her mother’s shotgun and shoots the thing. So it’s dead. Or … not? In place of the creature she shot, is a guy. A really hot guy. A really hot alive and breathing guy. Oh, and he’s totally naked.

Not sure what to do, she drags his unconscious body to the tool shed and ties him up. After all, he’s an angel and they have tricks. When he regains consciousness she’s all set to interrogate him about why the angels come to her town, and how to get back her best friend (and almost boyfriend) Chris, who was taken the year before. But it turns out the naked guy in her shed is just as confused about everything as she is.

He thinks it’s 1956.

Set in the deep south, OUTCAST is a story of love, trust, and coming of age. It’s also a story about the supernatural, a girl with a strange sense of humor who’s got wicked aim, a greaser from the 50’s, and an army of misfits coming together for one purpose: To kick some serious angel ass.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads


  1. Thanks so much for this post. I am tired of people telling me what a "real writer" is or is not. I LOVE the sound of Outcast. I'll be checking it out very soon. What a clever concept.

  2. Agreed! We have to find out what works for each one of us!

  3. Wonderful advice. It really does boil down to what works for you. But that's so easy to forget, isn't it!


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