Lessons in Learning

What I loved first perinatal psychiatry and now love about writing, is that no matter how much you know (or think you know…), there is always so much more to learn. On the face of it, this is daunting.

So, first this hurdle (one that keeps popping up to be renegotiated); sometimes with a gentle ‘its okay not to know everything, and no one expects you to be Lee Child’ to ‘Pull your bloody finger out or you won’t even get to be (put in name of favorite author who doesn’t sell well – yes, I know selling isn’t everything but expecting awards is too disappointing, and I want to go to Sisters in Crime/Aussie Crime Writers events to have a good time!)’

Note to self – you probably need to learn more about excess use of brackets ie don’t. And long sentences – its ok, they go on the third edit, but this is only get two edits…

Second lesson: embrace learning with excitement. Because in writing it is exciting. Well, thrillers anyway. From realizing you described the place your novel is set perfectly and could have avoided a four day trip to central NSW (long way, flat, dry…) to thinking of all the ways you can use the museum, the bar, the language, the birds…so yes, of course you had to travel there! This pretty much summarizes most of my learning…I kind of know it, but need to be reminded, and keep at it. Some of the freshness of the people in books come from real people who inspired your character, but more often it is little things from people along the way that you pick and tweek and add. Being passionate about what you do is the recipe for good health. It may not mean you earn the most, but it makes the time pass so much faster – and you feel the achievements at a deep level. You’re also likely to achieve more.

Third lesson: even when you are listening or reading someone give a talk/ lecture that you yourself could give (I do a lot of lecturing in psychiatry, and there are always questions at literary festivals about the writing process, and I have done a few beginner workshops), there is something to take away. If all else fails, maybe the speaker has a mannerism you can use for your character, or they’ll suggest a great wine bar to drown your sorrows in after the next rejection.

Fourth: Just because your first readers hate your draft, it doesn’t mean you have to completely re-write. One of the interesting things I’ve found in writing, is how small subtle things on the page change the readers attitude. In my latest The Long Shadow, going to the editor in August), I’m doing a stand alone rural thriller with a new character. I have got used to Natalie King (and there are more NK books coming too), and this lead character is completely different. Trouble was I kept telling myself how different she was ie sweet and naive relative to Natalie’s kick-butt attitude, and ended up with a very passive indecisive character…but  a ‘delete all’ maybes and perhaps and she was transformed! Okay, a little more than that, but the story was still solid with a great twist (I think…), so that got to stay intact!

Final lesson: don’t EVER think I won’t have to re-write and edit. Now that would be a recipe for disappointment! And I’d stop learning – which I don’t ever want to do.






About annebuist

Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and has 30 clinical and research experience in perinatal psychiatry. She works with Protective Services and the legal system in cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Medea’s Curse is her first mainstream psychological thriller. Professor Buist is married to novelist Graeme Simsion and has two children.
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