Every Wednesday I’ll be sharing some hints and tips about how to improve your writing. These are basic things I have learned over the years, from writers websites, published authors and constructive feedback from friends, family and online pals.
There is an argument that fiction writing cannot be taught because it comes from talent alone, it is in your nature to be creative. Whilst there is some truth in that, even the most creative person needs to learn how to use their ability and make the best of their craft.
This week: Never give up – follow your instincts!
This weeks topic isn’t so much about the nuts and bolts of writing but the passion, drive and enthusiasm writers have to bind their imagination into words to create amazing worlds and stories.
About a month ago I submitted a short story to Spectacle Publishing, for their inaugural publication fiction contest. You may have read my short story, Straight Shooter. Late last night I received an email from Spectacle, along with a copy of their first eBook anthology entitled On The Brink. My short story was selected to be part of the anthology! I was overjoyed! You can find the eBook on Smashwords. I’ve only read a couple of the other stories and they’re pretty fine!
As you can imagine I’m all smiles and overflowing with proud warm fuzzy feelings! I figured because I hadn’t heard anything back, other than a confirmation email, I was unlucky and my story wasn’t chosen. I never expected my writing to be taken seriously. The feedback I’ve received has been wonderful and I always appreciate it when people take the time to let me know what they think. So I’d like to thank you, dear blog reader, for your kind words, comments and encouragement. They mean a great deal to me.
Writing has and always will be my one true passion, sure I have a day job, but my heart and soul belong to creating worlds to get lost in and characters to love and hate. I’m sure I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, even if no one ever read anything I write, I’d still do it.
So because of my big smile this WTW is about the passion behind the writing.
Why do you write?
If it’s for fame and fortune then I suggest you try something else, Big Brother maybe. If you write for yourself, first and foremost, then you’re doing it for the right reasons. You have something in you that pushes you to tell stories, a need to create something out of nothing. Your imagination must have an outlet.
I wonder if there’s an element of multiple personality disorder inherent in all writers, after all they have all these characters pushing and shoving for attention. Maybe the only way to control them is to breathe life into them through words and let them run free on page or screen.
I write because I don’t know how not to write. Recently I’ve been busy training in a new job, with so much information to take in I’ve not had much enthusiasm for sitting at my desk and writing at the end of the day. In some ways this is a good thing, I know my boundaries and if I manage to get a few hundred words down I can relax. But when I’ve not written for a few days I start feeling itchy, jumpy, kind of anxious as if there’s something missing.
Then when I finally do allow my fingers to hit the keyboard it all pours out in one endless stream, like cooking a Word Banquet for my imagination to digest and enjoy. Pure heaven! But blogging isn’t the same as writing fiction. Even as I’m writing this I’m thinking about the next instalment of Arcane Insane or how I’m going to conclude my short story for Indigo’s Sunday Picture Press, The Cleansing.
For me blogging is like being stranded in a desert. I know there’s a lush oasis in the distance but until I reach it I can only sip from the Writing Cup bit by bit. I love writing on my blog, it’s a strange kind of therapy, but it can’t beat filling up those pages in a Word document.
It doesn’t matter whether you blog about your favourite topics or whatever interests you or if you write poetry, fiction, sonnets, lyrics etc. So long as you do it for the right reasons, the ones that matter to you, that drive you to write. The main thing is to enjoy it.
I started writing when I was a mere nipper but it wasn’t until my teens that I got into my stride. I have my Dad to thank for a lot of inspiration, always engaging my imagination and asking me to ask questions. The what-if questions were, and still are, the best.
To me starting small is about taking one concept and building on it. Before I start writing I don’t just put myself in the characters position, I imagine if I found myself in that situation.
If I were faced with a dark dragon outside my house, what would I do?
If a rainbow crashed through my roof one day, how would I react?
If the zombie apocalypse came knocking on my front door, would I really be able to kill the undead?
It’s these simple ideas that ignite the sparks in my head. The what-ifs are truly awesome.
More often than not, when writing a short piece of fiction, I’ll have a good idea of that simple concept and just start writing. I don’t concern myself with where it’s going or if it makes sense because I can edit later. I may find that after 500 words the story in my head is taking shape, the path is clear, yet the reason for my main character’s situation or background or personality has changed. So I backtrack, edit, adjust small bits and carry on. The story evolves as I write.
In the case of Straight Shooter, my main character was stuck on a grid locked bridge for too long. By the time I’d written a thousand words I wasn’t happy with him being stuck there so I changed it and got him out of the situation and to where he needed to be. He didn’t want to be hanging around a bridge, he had things to do, people to meet, and other character’s lives to make an impact on.
I’ve spoken about my novel, The Range, before, and like my short stories this started out as a simple concept. I wanted to tell a story about a group of survivors from the point of view of a video camera. Right from the start I could picture the video camera laying beside the road, waiting to be found. So I ran with the idea, used lots of description about facial expressions, body language and how people spoke. I needed to portray feelings and emotion to the reader through visual means only.
After about 10,000 words I felt it wasn’t working. The story and characters had developed beyond that simple concept to a point where I needed to have a voice telling the story. It deserved to be told in different way than from the video cameras point of view. I reckon it would have made a good script for a movie, Blair Witch style perhaps. But the story I wanted to tell, the one my characters needed in order to truly function, was that of first person perspective. Not exactly a huge shift but it was enough to make me happy.
And that’s what it’s all about.
I wasn’t happy. I wanted to tell my story but I couldn’t unless I changed something.
I enjoyed writing the first 10,000 words, it was a blast, but after I made that change…well, I was away, the Zone beckoned and the rest of the story screamed onto the screen like a dam bursting.
Have you ever been writing when you find yourself in a kind of euphoric state? Nothing so dramatic as stuffing drugs into your body, but a feeling where everything flows perfectly. Your fingers find their way across the keyboard with very little effort, your brain and hands seem to synchronise in a way that feels sort of unreal. You don’t have to think about the words, they just appear on the screen, they feel right as if they were already there and you’re just revealing them.
I call this the Zone. It’s hard to say why this happens, maybe a brain scientist can describe it, but I do know I love it! I find it doesn’t happen very often, or at all, when blogging, but more when I’m writing. More specifically when I’m writing something fresh, unplanned, no notes, just pure thought to hand to screen. This doesn’t mean every time I write something new I go into a trance and my eyeballs roll back in their sockets, my hands moving at an unrealistic speed. That would scare me! The Zone is a place of harmony and endless possibility, a place that Greg Mason describes to Peter outside Dixie’s Diner.
Once you’ve found it you’ll always know you can go back, the Zone is always there waiting for you.
Follow your instincts.
There are lots of pitfalls awaiting the fresh-faced writer and part of your writing journey is learn how to spot them and understand what they are. In the end it’s fair to say that all writers fall foul of these, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You will learn in time how to improve your writing because if you are passionate about your craft you will seek to learn how to improve.
I’ve written plenty of stuff that looks terrible when I read through it now. I’m not claiming I’m a super-hero writer but it has taken a lot of time to learn so many facets of writing, and I’m still leaning. You’ll find all sorts of advice on writing on the internet, through books, education and so on. And to a certain extent it’s all good stuff. I think there are a few golden rules about writing, not related to the nuts and bolts.
#1 Never give up. You are passionate about telling your story. You have something to say so say it. Don’t delete everything just because it doesn’t feel right. Copy – Paste into a new document – Save. You never know when you might want it! Don’t be discouraged by a bad comment or review. Take the good with the bad, learn to accept constructive criticism.
# 2 Follow your instincts. Grammar, spelling, plot, characters, setting, world building etc aside, it is you telling the story your way. Sure there are certain fundamental ways to tell a story but it is up to you how that story pans out. Remember, you are writing for you, every single time. If you enjoy it then keep going.
# 3 Write what’s in your heart. Research, plotting, planning etc have their place but to tell a story it is just you and your screen/page. The page wants you to write, it craves your words. If one of your characters is a real dirty, sleazy POS then let them rant and rave, don’t hold back for the sake of what other’s may think. Maybe you have a character who is gentle, loves romance, unicorns, fluffy rabbits and magical pixies. Let them explore this, don’t hold them back because it’s not what you believe in. You might be a straight shooter but you can’t write every character the same. Let them sing, dance, curse, laugh, cry, bonk, murder – whatever it is they were born to do, let them do it!
# 4 Learn a little every day. I try my best to show what I have learnt about writing each week. I also read a lot of blogs about writing tips, some things I already know but I always find something I don’t. And when I do, a little piece of the Word Puzzle slips into place. Ah, so that answers that question of… Right, so that’s why I should do… And so on. Learning isn’t limited to reading about how to write either. Read fiction. Watch TV. Watch movies. You will learn how to switch from Watcher/Reader to Writer and learn from many different sources. Maybe you’ve just watched a movie with a chunk of very bad dialogue. The Watcher/Reader may not notice because they are wrapped up in the story. But the Writer in you can make a few mental notes when it needs to.
# 5 Call yourself a writer. A while back I read an article on Kristen Lamb’s blog about how writers should learn to call themselves writers. Seems like a strange thing to do, but hey, if you write, aren’t you a writer? If you work in an office all day but love cooking when you get home, wouldn’t you love to be able to tell people you’re a chef? And why not? If that’s your passion then do it. Say it. I work in an office but when I meet a stranger who asks what I do I tell them I’m a writer. “Oh, I have a day job but that just pays the bills. I’ve just finished my novel but you can check out my blog if you want to know more.”
I never really considered myself as a writer until about a year ago. I’m unpublished. I don’t have a book in Waterstone’s. I work in an office. So what? That’s not who I am. I create something from nothing. I write and breathe life into characters and build worlds. How cool does that sound? Better than saying “I shuffle bits of paper across my desk. Eat lunch. Rinse and repeat in the afternoon.”
By calling yourself a writer you can boost your confidence when it comes to letting those magical words slip across the screen. I reckon that you, dear blog reader, have a blog of your own where you write, doesn’t matter what you write about, you write nonetheless. Therefore you can consider yourself a writer.
Chase your Rainbow.
For me writing is like looking up into the sky to find a beautiful rainbow arching across the horizon with strong bold colours. It’s a magical sight. The rainbow is there, right in front of me, yet unreachable. Even though it’s made of light refracting through water I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to touch it, to leave behind the world of science and slip into one of fantasy where rainbows are something tangible. A gateway to an endless stream of possibilities.
When I sit down to write I have that same goal, to let my imagination soar and run free. I seek to embrace the wonder of the rainbow from fantasy land, to feel the joy of touching it and letting its impossible glow surround me. In reality this is nonsense but in my imagination the rainbow can be anything I want it to be. Every time I see a rainbow it reminds me of writing, of creating a story, building worlds, shaping characters and letting them run where they must.
As a writer you can have many muses, like my rainbow, or maybe you have just one. I think it’s important to chase your own rainbow and let it fill you with that sense of wonder and imagination.
Learn to love your rainbow.