Some Things I’ve Come to Know About Writing: Or, Stating the Blindingly Obvious

Brains

I thought that for my first post of the year I would do a bit of a round up of some of things I’ve learnt about the writing process. I’m not keen on those “These Are The Rules Of Writing, So Listen Up!” posts, so this certainly isn’t one – indeed, the stuff that I’ve come to know about my own way of writing may not apply to you at all – think of it as more of a “Hey chaps, here’s some points I think I should make a note of because you know I’ll only forget otherwise” post.

 

Write Every Day/Don’t Write Every Day

Yes, I shall start off by being very vague and indecisive! Write Every Day is one of those writing rules that gets bandied around quite a lot, and largely it does indeed make sense; the more you write, the better you get at it. However, I have come to realise that it’s just as important not to beat yourself up if you don’t manage it. Writers have lives too, with day jobs and families, relationships and birthdays and video games, and there are days when you just can’t do it. For example, I have found that I’m pretty terrible at writing at the weekends, but quite good at writing in the mornings before work. So I devote my mornings to stories, and don’t get all guilt laden on a Saturday when I’ve done nothing but sleep and eat toast and push goats off of mountains in Skyrim.

 

Your Muse is a Flighty Cow

Like every romantic idiot that wore a lot of black jumpers and stared moodily out a lot of windows as a teenager, I do love the idea of a muse; that a winsome, mysterious figure will tap me on the temple on a dreary afternoon and fill my bonce with the greatest idea there has ever been. It’s bollocks though, unfortunately, or at least, it is for me. It’s true that I’ve had the occasional idea drop fully formed into my brain while I’m having a shower or waiting for the bus, but mostly ideas come from thinking a lot, all the time, and writing bits of ideas down and herding them around until they actually work. The key is: don’t wait for your muse. She’s probably off gambolling in the woods somewhere anyway.

 

Finish It/Or, the 60,000 Word Wall of Pain

I’ve written six books and finished them. With every one of them, I got a sizable chunk of the way in (usually around the 60,000 word mark) and I suddenly found that I violently hated it. Hated everything about it. Hated the characters, didn’t know who they were or what they were doing. Didn’t know or care where the story was going. Worse than that, it was suddenly very clear that everything I’d written up to that point was a massive pile of fetid garbage. How could I have been so deluded to think it was worth writing in the first place? WHY?

This is the dangerous time. It is a demon of writing. The voice that tells you, always at least once during the writing of a book, that you’d be better off scraping the whole thing and starting again.

Do not listen to it. It will say, “Oh hey, what’s this other idea your flighty muse just appeared with? That’s a lot better than this one. Look at it, all shiny and new and not stinking of garbage. And I bet it would be twice as quick to write as well…”

Do not listen! Squash that demon, keep going, and finish. I have written six books, and in truth I probably only really like 3 of them, but everything I’ve ever written to completion has taught me loads and has been invaluable.

 

Do Not Let Them Taste the Unbaked Cake

Or, resist the temptation to send your first few chapters around to friends to gather their opinions. This is hard, because you might want to know if you’re heading in the right direction, or it might just be that you’re proud of something you’ve done and want to share it, but either way, it’s best not to. Your first draft should be a secret, private thing that only you ever see, so that you’re allowed to make huge mistakes, and the story is entirely yours. Other opinions so early on could change the flavours and make it taste funny.

 

Be Brave!

Because in the end, you can’t please everyone. It’s a terrifying thing, to share your work with the wider world and watch as it raises its eyebrows in a sceptical fashion, but we are word-warriors, book-wranglers, and story-smiths. We can do this. Tell your stories, listen to your characters, and when in doubt, add a three-page long fantasy banquet. That’s what I do (there’s even a mini one in The Copper Promise, no honestly, go look…)

11 thoughts on “Some Things I’ve Come to Know About Writing: Or, Stating the Blindingly Obvious

  1. Good post, I have the similar thing with not finishing. Three times now I’ve started a novel and grew to hate it – only I usually get that about 30-40k in. I suppose before I’m fully committed. It’s surprisingly easy to throw away 30 thousand words without feeling too bad about it.Also, ignoring the shiny is really really hard. I think this is why I’m focussing on short stories this year; partly to improve my craft quicker, but also to give in for a while on exorcising all these shiny ideas.

  2. @ColinOh yes, it’s a blisteringly hard thing to do. My big cock up was with a book called A Boy of Blood and Clay, which I think may have had a number of nifty things in it, but I got to around 61,000 words and I just couldn’t see how to save it. And you’re right, it’s remarkably easy to say, “Oh well” and start again with something else. If anything, it’s a relief. But I don’t let myself do that any more. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing novellas. 😉

  3. You’re too right. Rules are *ideas* when it comes to writing and not every idea is a good for everyone, whether it’s followed exactly as stated or a variation thereof. Course you can’t be ignoring the fundaments of grammar etc (well… you can if you’re *really* naughty but people tend to slap your wrist for it… mine’s red raw) but all the *should* bollocks about the other “rules” we see so dang blasted much of… hmm… if I’m honest (and I invariably am), it grinds my blasted gears (fetches axe and growls menacingly at *should*).I think would behoove writers in general if more who blogged about “rules” were to approach it as you have. In other words, BRAVO!!And yes, that hate moment in books is a real stinker. Getting past it though, pure, unmitigated awesomesauce. Onanism for the brain. Well.. it was for mine… (*blushes, backs slowly from the room*)

  4. I tend to be suspicious of anyone who states that there are strict rules to be followed for any creative medium – perhaps that’s why art college and I didn’t agree with each other. ;)And I totally agree, Ren – when you push through that word-wall of pain and realise it’s all working again, it’s one of the best writing moments you can have. :) And although the end is usually the toughest bit to write, when I look back it’s always wildly satisfying.

  5. Always interesting to hear other folks thoughts.I’d agree it’s very personal. The thing that resonates with me is the whole beat yourself up thing. I think its getting the right amount of stick to make stuff actually happen (it would be easy to fritter all writing time away on games/twitter/other books, etc) but not flagellate over every moment not spent at the keyboard, producing new words.Oh and I really want to show people stuff before its cooked. That’s gone wrong before. For some reason they don’t give me the unmitigated praise I’m yearning for…

  6. I have started about eight stories and finished 0, feels like i kinda get into it now what may be ahead then start something else!

  7. Great post. Both the content and delivery hit the nail right on the head, no preaching but invaluable advice nonetheless. Thanks!

  8. Thanks chaps! :) As daft as it sounds, I do think it’s about “finding your own path” (wow, that *does* sound daft) and keeping an eye on what works for you. I like doing the occasional post like this because if anything I can use it as reference, for when I inevitably get to 60,000 words in the next project and start hating it…

  9. Great post Jennifer, glad I’m not the only one that grows to hate what they’re writing from time to time.Agree with what you say about not letting anyone see your work before it’s finished. I read Stephen King’s On Writing last year and he said that the first draft should always be written with the door closed, 2nd and 3rd drafts you open the door to allow someone to see it.

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