How To Write. Don’t Ask Me

- by Vonna Harper

Last night I attended the monthly meeting of our local writers’ group (had to, I’m the president).  A great time was had by all, at least by me, and as always happens after one of those talk and eat events, I come home energized.  One member gave a rundown of a workshop she attended, another enthused about the upcoming RWA conference, and all of us salivated over the Ipad one member brought. (It belongs to her teckie husband). 

This member is a talented and multi-published writer, and scary smart as my #1 son says about his younger brother.  She has taught workshops on various aspects of the how to write thingie, and although I’ve been published longer and have more books under my belt, I’m always in awe of her expertise.  I feel the same way when another member discusses the process she goes through with her screen writing.

How do they do it?  How and why does one become a writing teacher?  I gave it a shot when the community college asked me to lead a night class.  Piece of cake I first thought. 

Then panic set in because for me writing is this organic, unconscious process commanded by some part of my brain I don’t understand.  Not wanting to give my students writing lessons, I encouraged them to bring their wip and we’d discuss them.  I thought things were going well and put in my two cents worth about characterization, plot, pacing, the whole nine yards but week by week fewer students showed up.

Sorry Mother, Nana, and son #2, I ain’t no teacher.  I write.  I don’t know how I do it.  Okay, that isn’t true.  I can hear the wheels grinding and mostly meshing as I tackle each day’s writing.  My characters are multi facited to me.  I set them off on this track called a plot and occasionally rein them in when they go off course.  I let them head over the mountain when I thought we were going to stay in the valley because on some level I sense that this is what needs to happen.

But I don’t want to examine the process.  I don’t want to plug my characters and thus myself into a how-to book because I’m afraid that’ll suck them dry.  Believe me, I read my share of such books when I started along this journey and occasionally do some refresher reading, but you’re not going to catch me filling out standard character sketches.  Don’t talk to me about peaks and valleys in plot, rising tension, resolution.  I’m busy pouring my guts out on the page.

And I no longer want to understand how that happens.  Maybe that’s because I’m afraid it’ll all fall out of my ears and I’ll have to go back to reporting for a small down newspaper.  Shudder.

Someone please tell me that I’m not alone in seeing writing as this mysterious and organic process.



  1. Vonna, I feel exactly the same as you do. I am definitely an organic writer. I have no idea how I do what I do. People ask me to teach workshops, and I give it a go, but it’s really hard for me to try and define the steps I go through when creating a story. How can you teach following your instincts and going with your gut? I’ve noticed, though, that the writers who are able to teach well are also the ones who are plotters by nature and have clipboards and index cards…

  2. Nice blog. :) I was a writing teacher for 12 years, at two local universities, and two other instructors in our writing dept actually write category romance as well — which was how I got started, by meeting them. :)

    But while I happily chat or advise individuals from time to time, I never give conference or chapter workshops, and I have next to no interest in doing presentations or classes (I did one recently, and it was fun, but will be the last for a long time — very time consuming).

    I taught hundreds of students for 12 years, and now it’s my time to focus on my writing. I love getting comments on my writing from my editor, because for so many years, it was just my comments going to students, who often didn’t even look at them or really want to invest (though many did, and that was rewarding).

    I don’t fear losing my creative energy by looking at my process, and I do that regularly, but teaching takes a lot of energy, and frankly, that’s energy I use for my own work now.


  3. Thank you! I feel a measure of relief every time someone else says they’re an organic or subconscious (tagged in an Alisson Brennon blog) writer. I used to wonder how my fingertips had so much imagination happening without any input from either my right OR left brain! And it would be quite annoying when my characters developed a mind of their own….

    But now that I think about it, I used to train racehorses that way! Could never stick to the ‘plan’ I had mapped out because my horses couldn’t read and I got that. And yes, I did win races, but mostly with horses that other people didn’t have any success with. And I could never explain how I conviced a horse to color within the lines…..

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is something in the way we’re wired. So just enjoy!

  4. Personally, I do a lot of thinking about how to write/plot when I’m not writing. When I am writing, I try to shift all that into the background and just write. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I end up reading blogs and commenting when I’m supposed to be writing.

    And organic seems to be working just fine for you, Vonna. Carry on.