Elizabeth George is one of my writing gods. Way back when, when I was fresh and bouyant with ignorance, I registered for my first writers retreat. Only Elizabeth George would do out of a list of stellar author instructors. Never mind that I hadn’t fulfilled the prerequisite (the fiction basics workshop), I wasn’t budging.
Her workshop ended up being the best thing I’ve ever talked my way into. Elizabeth’s teaching style and her perspective on the writing craft resonated with me. I found myself signing up with her again. And again. I couldn’t get enough.
This week I’ve had a blast reviewing my workshop notes and Elizabeth’s feedback on various pieces of writing. I could write the world’s longest blog post about what I learned from her. I have so much good stuff to choose from that I’ve decided to include only verbatim quotes. This narrowed my choices down quite nicely.
1. “You have the story and the talent. Now put them together and run with them.”
There’s nothing wrong with getting affirmation from outside sources. With mastery comes confidence (most of the time, hopefully, maybe), and mastery takes time.
2. “Get up and face the day, every day, to do what it takes to be a writer.”
Discipline, baby, and lots of it. Elizabeth said that with talent, passion, and discipline you will get published, and with discipline coupled with either talent or passion, you’re likely to get published. But talent and passion with no discipline? Forgettabout it.
3. “The people who get published are the people who don’t give up.”
This is good old perseverence. I like putting #2 and #3 together when I’m in the throes of a talentless hack funk. The winning trifecta equals passion, discipline, and perseverence. Got talent? Bonus! But not necessary.
4. “Trust the body. Ignore the committee.”
You’ve felt the tingle (not that tingle, jeez), haven’t you? The excitement that registers in your body before your brain knows what’s going on? Yes! Aha! You can trust this feeling. It never steers you wrong. Your inner committee of sad-sack nay-sayers and bullies? Ignore them.
I have trouble with this one, that’s for sure. Sometimes I can’t tell what’s going on in my body because the nay-sayers are so loud. Still, I keep trying.
5. “The thing about writing that I believe is important to remember is that the writer has to be able to switch positions constantly, not only in order to express herself with a fair degree of artistry, but also in order to step into the reader’s shoes to see if what’s written is also something that will track for the reader.”
This is about orienting the reader. About clarity. About objectivity. So that we can look upon our work from the point of view of a reader, and thus be able to edit ourselves. I use readers to provide objective feedback. They provide the “huh?” comments. That said, I’m always trying to improve my skills in this area. Ultimately, we may write shitty first drafts for ourselves, but we must revise for readers.
Bonus pearl of wisdom: We are where we’re meant to be.
I know I’ve got this bonus pearl written somewhere, but I can’t find it, so I can’t verify it, so I can’t put quotes around it. In essence, wherever we are on our writing journeys is where we’re meant to be. This is a nice life lesson too.
Have you received affirmations that you’ve hung on your bulletin board (or fridge, or …)?
Elizabeth George is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 novels of psychological suspense, one book of nonfiction, and two short-story collections. Her work has been honored with the Anthony and Agatha awards, the Grand Prix de LittÉrature PoliciÈre, and the MIMI, Germany’s prestigious prize for suspense fiction. She lives in Washington State.
Her newest Detective Lynley novel just came out. (I’m so excited!) It’s called JUST ONE EVIL ACT, and you can check it out here.