Runs with Cheetahs:
Book Review of Way of the Cheetah By Sheila Viehl
By Peggy Kurilla
Of all the things I could compare writers
to cheetahs would not likely be high on my list of possibilities. However,
Lynn Viehl, author of the Darkyn series of vampire novels, does just
that in her book on writing, Way of the Cheetah: How to Boost Your
Productivity, and makes the analogy work.
The book is divided into three parts: Eye
of the Cheetah, The Writing Savannah, and Running Down the Story. They deal
with finding the discipline and focus to write, physical and emotional
obstacles to writing quickly, and an overview of her fast writing process.
Her goal in writing the book is to teach
other writers how to use their (frequently limited) writing time to best
advantage in order to produce more marketable work by writing faster,
cleaner, and better. To support her advice, she offers "Method Exercises"
to help writers achieve the goal.
Following the Way will take a writer from
the absolute grounds of writing -- why write in the first place? What do
you hope to gain from your writing? -- through dealing with your own doubts
and the doubts of others, through setting up your work space and equipment,
and on through actually writing and editing the manuscript. Viehl covers
all of these in a remarkably concise seventy pages.
Most of us write because we enjoy it, and
sometimes that enjoyment can be lost amid pressures of deadlines,
submissions, and revision -- even if those pressures are self-imposed.
Viehl recognizes that many of a writer's obstacles are internal obstacles --
doubts, worries, hopes, and dreams -- and offers tips for dealing with
them. One of my favorites is to take time each week to write something (a
scene, a short story, whatever) purely for practice or fun.
Viehl also talks about discipline and
focus, and how lack of either can slow the writing process down to a crawl.
What makes her advice stand out in this area is that she covers both smaller
focus issues, such as writing when you sit down to write, and larger focus
issues, such as developing an annual business plan for your writing. Both
of these are necessary for any writer.
Once all of that writing has been done, you
don't want to lose it. Viehl discusses backing up your work as well as
keeping it free of viruses and other electronic bugs, at least as far as
reasonably possible. Her own system involves three separate computers,
three separate printers, and both electronic and hard copies of everything
she's written. Obviously, as a working pro, Viehl has designed her system
so that no matter what happens to her, technically, she can still produce
work, as she did during the 2004 hurricane season when three hurricanes hit
her town within six weeks and she was without power for twenty-one days.
Those in a less hazardous parts of the world might be able to get by with
Her sections on how she writes are
fascinating reading, but she starts with the actual writing. Plotting,
pre-writing, planning are not discussed at all. This would be my one
criticism of the book: Viehl doesn't make clear until the last section that
her advice is geared toward intermediate or advanced writers. If you're
still in the very beginning stages of learning to write, of learning to tell
a story, some of the advice won't be applicable or useful. Much will -- all
writers, no matter how advanced, fight the demons of doubt -- but it is most
important that a writer learns to tell a story before he starts trying to
work at Viehl's phenomenal pace. (For those who aren't aware, Viehl writes
seven to ten books a year, all under contract, under different names and in
In all, Way of the Cheetah contains
solid advice for the intermediate to advanced writer, and inspiration for
all of us. It is available in e-book format (requiring Adobe Reader) from
http://www.shop.hollylisle.com/ for $9.95.