Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Here's Blechta, late again...

Anyone who has spent time teaching, whether in the formal setting of a classroom or a casual one-on-one knows that teaching someone something you know well is as beneficial to your own expertise and knowledge as it is for the person(s) you are helping.

I found this out early when I began teaching kids not much younger than me how to play rock and roll keyboard. I was maybe 17 at the time and had been playing professionally for several years. Having to explain what I was doing as I played for my students and directed/critiqued their performances, dissecting what my thinking really was and then trying to verbalize that forced me to understand many things that I was doing all the time -- but mostly on "autopilot". In consequence, I became a better musician.

As I published my first novels, I would occasionally be asked to go someplace and talk to a creative writing class, or chat with readers in libraries on how crime fiction is written. I always declined because I felt I really didn't know much about the subject -- certainly not enough to pontificate to people who probably knew as much or more about the writing process than I did. I've always been skeptical of people without much experience and I certainly felt I fell into that category.

Lately, though, I'm more confident that I just might know enough to at least be interesting, if not informative, when speaking to other folks who want to write crime fiction.

Since I stopped teaching school music in 2001 (after 23 years in the biz), my teaching chops have been unused and rusting. With my schedule this month (4 library presentations and one day in a local collegiate speaking with creative writing classes), you can see that my confidence most be increasing (either that, or I'm out of my mind). But getting back into "teaching mode" has also once again driven home the fact that teaching is as beneficial to the teacher as it is to the taught.

Last night was a good example. My current library chat is titled "It's not whodunnit, it's howhedunnit: Rick Blechta dishes the dirt on the creation of his new novel, A Case of You". That's a tall order on the face of it, and in consequence, I've been struggling to keep the talk informative, but not to get bogged down with minutiae.

Attendees to these little lectures have seemed to find them useful, informative and enjoyable (the last probably due to my penchant for cracking jokes), but I've found them mind-blowing to my understanding of the creative process.

I wrote A Case of You in mere 11 weeks last year. (Don't ask why. There was a very good reason, even if it all came to naught as things unfolded.) So, for the first time, I just sat down every day at the computer or notebook, and wrote for my life. There really was no time to stop and think about what I was doing, what the process was. I just did it. This was akin to the way a musician plays once they've got their playing down and I'd already done plenty of that (also known as "heavy faking").

The end result was, when it came to my library and writers' talks, I really no idea about how I wrote the damn book. After 3 talks now, though, the thought process behind the creation of the novel is beginning to become clear. One example: having to explain exactly what is behind the interaction between the two primary characters, something I hadn't had time to consider before, has revealed many startling things I had no idea was doing at the time.

Want to know what some of the other revelations are? Come to one of my talks! ;)


Charles benoit said...

11 weeks? I'm happy if I get 3/4 through a new book in 11 months.

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Rick Blechta said...

Charles, it was an ugly, ugly process, and at the end of it I felt as if I'd been hit repeatedly in the face with a shovel. The sad thing was that it really didn't have to happen, as things turned out -- but that's another story.

However, the process was interesting in hindsight. My main writing process consists of "throw everything at the wall, and at the end, see what sticks." Couldn't do that this time, could I? Having to really focus on the throughput of the story and carefully choose and stage how I placed anything that didn't contribute to the forward motion of the plot, pointed out to me that maybe there is a different way for me to work.

If you want to really be impressed, in my last year of university during a 15-week period, I composed, scored (for a 10-piece orchestra), music directed and conducted a full-length original musical while holding down a full program of 6 courses just so we could buy my wife a professional flute. She did have to work, though. I made her help copy out the orchestral parts from my score and she also had to play tenor sax along with flute and piccolo in the show -- something for which she still hasn't forgiven me, regardless of the new flute which still remains her primary instrument.

I don't know how I did all that, either.