In which we examine some of the influences that shape our writing lives. In part one I thought I would look more closely at the peripherals – those external aspects of writing, mostly outside our control, that nevertheless directly affect how we write and what we write about. In part two, we’ll scrutinize the writing process itself.
In my experience, writing isn’t a life choice, like exercise, or dieting. We don’t decide to become writers any more than we decide to become a man or a woman (well, most of us, anyway); by the time we’re ready to make such a conscious decision; writing has already made the choice for us. It’s a compulsion: innate, and as inevitable as death and taxes.
So let’s start with some advice:
- Don’t give up the day job. Writing might be a solitary endeavour, but we don’t do it in seclusion. We have lives to lead, people to care for and careers to manage. And we need this interaction. If you closet yourself away in splendid isolation you’ll miss the stimulation of real life and this will be reflected in your writing.
- Virginia Woolf was right; every woman needs a room of her own. A writing place of your own is a good thing, but failing that, even a corner of the kitchen table is better than nothing. But it’s your corner of the kitchen table.
- Always carry a notebook; you never know when the muse will strike. Maybe when you’re out running, or doing the ironing. Invest in one of those tiny digital recorders for those outdoor moments.
- Take your writing seriously. You are a writer, even before you have anything published. Show your commitment; be proud. Don’t expect anyone else to take your writing seriously if you don’t yourself.
- Organise yourself, so even the small amounts of writing time you eke out of your busy day – half an hour here, a few minutes there – will be fruitful. I admit I have the organisational skills of a bedroom slipper, but even I do this. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in an hour.
- Set goals and time limits. They can be relatively small, but they are necessary. Deadlines concentrate the mind and procrastination really is the thief of time.
- Allow yourself some time off. You can still be writing, but have some fun, play with ideas. Try a different format. I had some fun a while ago revisiting some poetic monologues I wrote years ago. Thinking up impossible rhymes was a great antidote to plotting.
- Read. Immerse yourself in your chosen genre; study similar novels, examine them and learn what makes them appealing to readers.
- Write. Don’t talk about writing, just do it. Real writers don’t wait until the time is right; they just get on with it. And don’t forget, you can’t edit an empty page.
- Learn to love rejections. They aren’t personal, although they’ll certainly feel like that. If you really believe in your work, put it to one side for a while and start something new. (In any case, never sit waiting for a submission to wing its way back to you – always have something else on the go.) When you go back to it, you might want to tweak it a little before sending it out again. Trust your judgement; everything has its time. Someone will love it.