I had a meet-up the other week with an internet friend. Despite my being old enough to be her grandfather, we never find ourselves short of things to talk about.
Like me at her age, she wants to write. She’s already better at writing than I was at that age: there’s no way I could have gotten anything accepted by the Manchester Evening News, let along The Guardian, but she’s cracked that market, if not as often as she’d like.
At the moment, she’s written articles, comments and blog pieces, but as yet no fiction, and she was asking me about that,about where I get my ideas from, and how I develop them. So I described a few experiences, plus a cool story, and she asked if I’d ever written about these, and suggested they might be helpful.
Now I’m a long way from being convinced that my ideas on how to write fiction are helpful, but on the other hand I’m fascinated by the way fiction works, and what happens when you write, and, I admit, how little of it seems to be under my conscious control. So, at Emily’s suggestion, I’m going to start writing about some of the things that have happened in writing.
Who knows? Maybe somebody will find this interesting?
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The two most important things about writing are both commonplaces.
Firstly, whilst there are tricks and techniques that can be set out and taught, every piece of advice from a writer ultimately amounts to ‘this is how I do it’. Writers write in their own way. What works for Martin Amis may be the exact opposite of how Iain Sinclair writes (I stress that I know neither of these writers nor how they approach writing). One of the essential elements of learning how to write is learning how you write.
I started off believing that I could not complete any work without knowing how it ended, and plotting my way carefully and comprehensively, all the way between. How I write now couldn’t be further from that approach.
Secondly, you do, you really do, have thousands upon thousands upon thousands of words of bad writing to get out of your system before you will be able to produce something worth reading, even to yourself.
You must write, and write. And read. And write and write and read and read. Read for pleasure, read for instruction, read to understand how books work and how they don’t, read to take in, in whatever fashion best suits you, the way people write. And write and write. Be patient: a time will come when you start to feel as if you know what you are doing, and that’s a powerful feeing indeed.
By then, you should have begun to find your own voice, your way of saying whatever you have to say, what works for you, and how it works.
And keep writing until it feels strange, and empty, and a waste of your life that you are not writing today.
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You must also come to a decision as to who is more important when you write.
Why do you want to write?
For money, obviously. Who doesn’t want to have the monetary success that attaches itself to the work of Terry Pratchett or Joanne Rowling? To have the knowledge of so many readers with their demand for what you have written, that towering sense of millions hanging on to your thoughts?
Or at least enough to give up the day job.
But who are you writing for? For your reader, or for yourself?
Much as I’d like to be commercial, to sell more books, to at least derive a secondary income from them, I know that the writing is the most important thing to me. The urge to fit words together in a way they have never been placed before. The ideas, the situations, the characters who form in my head, and the need to make them exist outside of my mind. The stories I want to have exist that no-one else is writing, and therefore I have to write them to find out what happens.
I write because it is indeed empty, strange and wanting of purpose not to.
Or is it the reader’s requirements that you focus upon? Does your writing exist only to serve their needs, and are you then prepared to write only what they expect, or desire, or demand?
I can’t. Mind you, I’ve never had to. The very last thing under the sun that I am is a salesman, and I have no interests in the kind of social media that might enable me to promote myself and gain readers: only this blog.
I write for myself, and to satisfy me, and my need to bring my fictions to the point where they can exist separate from me. I am my own first audience.
You may choose not to be.
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Which is enough for one session. Please comment if anything strikes you, please tell me about your experiences with trying to create something. I don’t want to be lecturing, I want to be learning.