Why I’m terrified to learn how to write – Alice Ross

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By Alice Ross

When I first received the very flattering invitation to write this post, my initial thought was, ‘Wow, that must mean I’m a proper writer’. Then I looked at the website and my next thought was ‘Oh God. I’m not a proper writer at all.’

The home page featured a host of polished authors writing about lots of authory things, such as how to plot a novel, and the importance of opening lines. Some, I discovered with rising panic, have MAs in Creative Writing, most have attended workshops, receive feedback from writing buddies, belong to writing groups, or have at least read a couple of How To books.

I haven’t done any of that.

Nor do I intend to.

Why? Because I’m ever so slightly terrified. Terrified that analysing the process will cause my creative juices to pack up and flee. Terrified that focussing on how I should be writing will detract me from actually typing a single word, and that calculating whether or not I have the correct percentage of dialogue will turn all my characters mute. Indeed, even flicking through a couple of online writing guides to help me write this piece is making me jittery as I realise I know absolutely nothing about building up to the “climactic moment”, what a “plot point” is, or when the “key event” should occur.

Or do I?

I’ve been lucky enough to have all nine of my novels published by the first publishing houses I sent them to. Admittedly, I cringe when I read back the first three, and having taken on board all the comments from copyeditors over the years, have subsequently re-edited these books myself, removing an embarrassing number of adverbs. But, years on, I have made no changes to the basic structure of these stories. Which means, I hope, that I do have “plot points”, “key events” and “climactic build up” – and all in the correct order.

Perhaps, though, had I studied the art before diving head-first into the writing world, I wouldn’t have cringed when I re-read my first attempts. Perhaps my use of adverbs would have been rigorously controlled, and my writing process much slicker.

Or perhaps I wouldn’t have written at all. Perhaps all the theory would have blown my mind and completely turned me off the idea.

My writing is purely down to instinct and learning on the job. Whether that makes me a “proper” writer or not, I have no idea. I merely do what works best for me. The old adage “write about what you know” is certainly true. And for now, I’m sticking to another: “writing how I know”.

Alice Ross is the author of four regency romance novels and five modern romps. Her latest book, A Winter’s Wish, was published by Carina UK on 30 September. She lives in north-east England with her husband and very pampered rescue dog.


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