Writing is so much more than just the act of producing a novel for the purpose of publishing it. I’ve been thinking about this fact a lot lately, what with my debut self published novel due to be released in about a week now (that’s terrifying to actually read back to myself), and I think it’s probably the most important attitude one can have as a writer. The psychology of writing to publish is an easy one to slip into when you get one book out there, and it’s a very easy one for me to dismiss, because I have two great advantages; one, I’m a self published author, so I am not contractually obliged to meet any deadlines save my own, and two, I am not dependent on writing for income (few are, and it’s a risky move to make, but there it is). But regardless, this is often a great flaw in the commercialisation of the creative; ironically, it can quench the fire that started the whole thing. But I believe that the beauty of writing, and the hallmark of a writer, lies not in the success of a book, or even if it is ever seen by the world, but in the passion, and the personal commitment behind it. It’s the ultimate act of doing something purely for oneself, to undertake a project for your own satisfaction. So when I use the word ‘writers’, in the title of this post, I refer to anyone picking up the pen for the first time; even if it is just a personal project that no one will ever set eyes on, nor care about, but you, that doesn’t make it an any less worthy one.
1)Write what you want to write – This may seem like a fairly simple, idiotic statement, but sometimes it’s one that’s hard to adhere to. The literary world is one full of prejudices and judgment, especially when it comes to matters of genre, tone and use of tropes. Chances if are you’re an avid reader and an aspiring writer, you are probably aware of this, and are subconsciously trying to avoid such vitriol. The romance genre is the main target for this, despite the fact that it is one of the bestselling ones to this date. But here’s the thing; all genres contain both incredible and terrible books, every trope has examples of being done well and done poorly, and any plot has the potential to be penned beautifully or horrifically. But if you are not passionate about the piece of writing in question, it is almost certainly going to veer towards the latter area. Readers can tell when the author’s heart is really in it or not, because when it comes to writing, it is hard to lie in terms of emotion. But more importantly, if you are writing, or not writing something purely because you think it will earn you prestige or approval, then you are going to have a miserable time writing it, regardless of whether or not you are publishing it. You have to write for yourself before anyone else, and only then can you do so to the best of your ability.
2)Try things to ascertain whether or not they work – Often you only understand your story truly once you start writing it. Outlining provides the infrastructure of your novel, but writing provides the soul of it. Beginning your book is the most daunting step, and it’s not uncommon for you to pen the first few pages, and realise that it’s not working the way you would have liked; but you will only find out if you write those first few pages, and the next time it will be ten times better. Your book is your vision, and it’s the most magical feeling to watch it come to life on the page before you, and even if you are the only person to ever care about it, the goal is to make sure it’s as perfect as you pictured it, for yourself. And often this involves the practice of trial and error; so don’t beat yourself up if your first few tries don’t hit the mark. But when it does all fit together, you will be off!
3)Read as much as possible – An old piece of writing advice, but one that is always valuable. Read what you want, however much you want, and pay close attention to it. What can you learn from the way the author approaches character crafting? What is the average length of a book in this genre? What was your emotional takeaway from this book? Reading also subconsciously improves your understanding of the English language, through introduction of new words, styles and narrative structures. You do not have to read ten books a month, or go through all the literary classics to become a better writer through reading; if you pick books you will authentically enjoy, and you pay close attention to them, you will undoubtedly improve as a writer. And the two activities go hand in hand; equally the more your write, the more eagle eyed a reader you will become. If you would like some book recommendations, check out my Best Books on My Shelf summary, or take a look at my Goodreads books list.
4)Allow yourself to be inspired by what is around you – Whether it’s music, life experiences, movies, places or the people closest to you, you do not need to have led a particularly outlandish life in order to find great inspiration for your writing. The best writing is produced through examining feelings, opinions or ideas you are passionate about, and presenting them through the vehicles of stories, characters and atmosphere to create a rich and engaging piece of literature. Taking things you have felt, or views that you have and blowing them up onto a more epic and dramatic scale gives you a personal, relatable narrative but with enough excitement to hold a reader’s attention. And in terms of looking to other creative works such as books, television or music, inspiration does not mean just copying and pasting an idea. It means this particular piece of creativity set the ball rolling in your mind in terms of your own ideas, and led your thought process to the original story that you want to tell.
5)Make time to write, but don’t put pressure on yourself – This is often one of the biggest challenges of beginning your journey as a writer; it’s a time consuming process, and often one that require great mental energy and concentration. So with our busy modern lives of work, chores, family, friends and rest, it can be a rare opportunity to find a lengthy enough time to to write in which you are feeling up to it. But sometimes, you have to prioritise doing something purely for yourself, and if you can, set aside a time to write and keep that time just for that. This does not mean you have to write at this time, if you’re tired, or you’re just not feeling it, but draw a line in your life which allows you to take this time for your craft should you feel in the mood. It’s this leniency that makes writing casually such a freeing, authentic process.
Whether or not you are a published one, you are a writer. Regardless of whether or not anyone else reads your work, you are a writer. Your book should be a project undertaken primarily for yourself, and just because this is your only aim, it doesn’t mean you can’t strive to make it the best it can possibly be, for your own mental satisfaction. So, if you’re picking up the metaphorical pen for the first time, good luck, and make sure to please yourself first, and any potential readers second!
For more writing advice, go to the page My Writing Journey, for a list of all of my posts. 🙂
By Rowan Speakman
(All images sourced from Wikimedia Commons).