Where to Begin –
Stop Prevaricating. Easier said than done, I hear you cry. Been there, done that. I have dabbled on and off throughout my whole life (mostly off B.D – before daughter). Then an amazing thing happened, my daughter came of an age in which she mirrored back to me my own criticisms, persuasions, acronyms. She was constantly told as a child to ‘have a go’, ‘just try it’ and ‘just go for it’. I ended my dabbling when she told me to “Carpe diem. You keep telling me, now this is me telling you.” So I did.
Writers are always telling would-be-writers to ‘just write’! I’m going to try and persuade you not to!!!!
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot,” Stephen King says in his book ‘On Writing‘. Do you already do this? If not, why not? How can you possibly expect to write if you are a stranger to literature in the first place?
I cannot tell you how many times I have been speaking to other people and they say, “Oh, I was good at writing stories in school...” or when I painted:- “I got a B in my art ‘O’ Level, I reckon I could do that...” Really? So why aren’t you doing it? Because you were, or are still, ‘good at something’ is not a qualification for being that thing. You have to WANT to be it. To be a fiction writer, you have to BE CREATIVE! If you aren’t, there is nothing wrong in that, just don’t kid yourself that you can.
In a previous blog I wrote that Writing is like keeping an allotment, in which I was quite helpful (I thought), and kind (for me), about planning, editing and so forth. Now I’m telling you that writing is like rolling around in pig-swill for a huge portion of the time. Where to start? What to write? What’s my style? How do I deal with writers block? How do I resolve this conflict between characters? What’s the difference between Show & Tell? Where do ideas come from? Who will read it? Will I be successful?! I’m not giving answers to any of those questions, why? Because I’m a bitch? No (well, partially), but if you are asking these questions BEFORE you begin your shiny new writing journey – I would seriously question whether this is the right choice for you.
By the way, there is no limit on what age you can begin writing; it may be that you have spent your life working, bringing up a family, and now you’re free to follow your dream. You’re a pressure cooker that has been ‘on hold’ for decades – time to release the flood!
Who are you Writing For?
And why are you writing? This may sound a bit odd, but people write for different reasons:- for fun, as catharsis, as a way to better understand the world, to escape from the world, for money, a natural progression from previous creative activity, or from journalistic based role, because it’s an itch that needs to be scratched. Whatever the reason, be honest. If you think you’re going to make money from being a story-teller, think again; the successful ones we hear about are few and far between.
Stop trying to please others – write for yourself. Some authors advocate writing the kind of stuff you’d like to read yourself; well if you can’t please yourself with what you’ve written, how can you expect anyone else to enjoy it?
Do you know how many new books get published each year? In the UK in 2017, it reached 4.8 billion! Is your effort going to be picked up amongst all those? If you knew you would NEVER get published, would you still want to write? If the answer is an emphatic ‘no’, read no further, just stop right now and go and watch TV.
We all know writing can be a lonely gig. Hmm, did I say lonely? I’m never lonely – I may work alone, but lonely; never. You have to want to be alone for extremely long periods. For example, you have to world build if you want to write sci-fi, that takes some serious – and I mean serious – inside-my-own-head time. You have to be prepared to miss social events – and not care.
Disconnect yourself from what you might call ‘reality’ and create your own – but be able to re-surface into ‘normality’ and function well. “I have never yielded to reality.” said Philip K. Dick.
Fiction writers spend a lot of time inside their own heads, we stare into space mulling over scenes, dissecting dialogue and listening in on other people’s conversations! Get away from everyone, lock yourself in a quiet place and work.
You do not need to attend conferences on writing to become a writer. All you need is… writing implements of whatever kind you prefer – laptop, iPad, pen and paper, quill, chisel and stone.
Let’s Get Critical –
I have read some shit in my time, seriously, there seem to be people who think that whatever they write is worth the time and attention of readers. I have come across horrendous grammatical errors, uncorrected spelling mistakes, and just plain awful stories. Humans, it seems to me, have become less self critical in recent years, the advent of social media and self-publishing sites has led to an abundance of dilute word vomit.
Prepare for failure and criticism. If you are going to ask other people to read your work, then expect criticism; I do. In fact I welcome constructive criticism – without constant practice and critical feedback, I may do the writing equivalent of jogging on the spot.
This goes back to those people who said, ‘Oh, I was good at writing stories in school‘. So what? I won the 100 metres for my school for 5 consecutive years; doesn’t mean I was ever going to be an Olympic runner! If you want to put your writing out there, get a tough skin!
Practise description. Please! I have read stories where – 1. The scene is not described; to the extent that it was unclear if it was indoors or outside. 2. The number of people involved in a conversation was muddled. 3. A different character’s name was used who shouldn’t have even been included!
Also, it must be credible. You can set your story any where, any time, whatever, it can have pink flying elephants – as long as there is a reason for pink flying elephants, then it will work – don’t think because you have a ker-azy idea that it will make you the next Ian Banks or Hunter S. Thompson. Far from it.
As previously stated, Writing is hard work. It may, in fact, be harder than the ‘day job’ I/you do. Why? Because it is all about you – you come up with the ideas, you do the actual work, you put in the hours; it requires self-discipline. Be honest, are you prepared to be that person?
Never Stop Learning –
So, you wrote your first short story and your friends think it’s great. Is that it then? All you ever wanted has been achieved? Okay, make way for the stalwarts who are still with me.
Just because your best mate says it’s good – DOES NOT MAKE IT SO – and it does not mean you have reached the pinnacle of your (potential) writing career. Keep going, write another, write some more, keep going, and again…
Readers are greedy for more, the audience constantly needs feeding. But that does not mean you have to keep churning out the same old crap. If you want to be a real writer, you must NEVER think you have learnt everything you need to know. Down that path lies mediocrity and complacency, “Nothing is more hostile to art than a culture of complacency.” says Dr. Joseph Suglia.
Expand your reading, try something you may never have read previously; it can be anything, it doesn’t have to be other people’s fiction. Read about coal mines in South America, find out about about farmers markets in Namibia, read about your local area, learn a new language, read about the average number of piglets in a litter (it’s an average of 10-12 ,if you want to know), whatever you do – READ.
“I had to learn American just like a foreign language. To learn it I had to study and analyse it. As a result, when I use slang . . . I do it deliberately.” Raymond Chandler.
If I haven’t put you off and you accept all/most/some of what I’ve said, and the urge to expel a creative nugget is wriggling in your belly, bravo!
Now go and write!
*The author accepts no responsibility for broken hearts or dreams.
*The author does not proclaim to be an expert on the above topic, just a weary reader.
5 thoughts on “So You Want To Be A Fiction Writer?”
Thank you, Alexandra. Joseph
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You’re very welcome, Joseph. A pleasure to read your concise approach to writing.
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If you would like a free physical copy of my novel TABLE 41, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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True,in a country like Nigeria where writing is not a custom, people are always streamlined to old or mythical thoughts or hear say.
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Hi oliverquin123, thanks for visiting my blog and also taking the time to comment. I have little experience of literature in most other countries, especially the African nations, but I would say that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’ contemporary writers just need to find a way to tell the same stories from a new perspective. Are there any Nigerian writers you can recommend?
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