Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Reluctant Pen



So many people love to write and can't bring themselves to tell anyone about this passion that they have. For years, I kept my love for writing to myself - even denying it to myself. On one hand, this  allowed for an amazing experience I wouldn't have discovered otherwise: reading. This is the most invaluable learning tool a writer can have. Not only do you get to enjoy a new world, love, pain or information on what interests you, you learn the craft. You know, without having to open a textbook, that you enjoy a good 'voice' or so-called flow. You see the way your favourite authors write and hope to emulate them, not just in their success but their style (without copying it). This works in the opposite way, as well. After reading as much as you can, you know what you don't like, and what style you wish to never be compared to.


If you love writing enough to want to be an author, keep at it. Even if you are like I was - not wanting to share with those close to you for fear of ridicule or criticism - you won't improve your craft humming and hawing over it. Pick up your pen and open your notebook, or bring up a new word document, and start. It doesn't have to be pretty - in fact, keep it simple. Nobody loves to read purple prose or dialogue full of jargon which will date you. Adverbs should be used sparingly (I know that seems hyprocritical). Simply put, they weigh passages down and can hurt the flow of your story.


When I began, it was with poems. Of course, I was young, and I didn't call myself an author or a poet - it was just fun. Later, once the poetry slowed, I started to write synopsis's of stories, from start to finish. They didn't go anywhere, really, but still. It helped me build the foundation of knowledge for structure all stories must encompass in order to read well - a beginning, a middle, and an end. I learnt cliffhangers and backstory, foreshadowing, character descriptions, point of views, conflict, world building . . . If I ever find the end of this list, I'll be sure to write it down. Fortunately, though some would say unfortunately, there is always going to be something new for a writer to learn. I guess that's why a person who calls themselves a writer stays that way for life. There is always more, whether it is in your head or discovered from someone new.

Stephen King says to write one word at a time. Well, this is true, but do it as much as you can. Write everywhere, however or whenever you can. My advice to a new writer, or someone wanting to write, is this:

1. Write
2. Read
3. Read the "Style Guide"
4. Write
5. Write
6. Read
7. Write
8. Write
9. Write
10. Write

....and just for good measure:

11. NEVER STOP!

This is a very basic list, and that's exactly as I intended. When I started to write novels, I was so caught up 'learning', I spent a year not writing. Well, I wrote, but it was notes. Notebooks filled with hand-written research about everything: characters - their names, characteristics and features - plotting, brain-storming - from the snowflake method to the advanced Excel Workbooks - and even silly little things such as types of fabric, shape of body and face, fashion (clothing styles i.e. name of designs and trending brands) and colours. I even had handwritten lists of phobias and common mental illnesses from the DSM Manual because psychology fascinates me so. In case you don't know what this means, there are HUNDREDS of phobias and mental disorders for which a person can  be labelled with, and I wrote them out in alphabetical order for easy reference. Did this help? Certainly. Everything you know helps when you write. But after I spent a year filling pages with research and started writing, I was plagued with revisions because I kept researching.

Start a draft and finish it, even if it's garbage you will never publish in the end.

Every time I took a break or started to surf the net, I would find another article telling me something I should or should not be doing. In short, I was allowing myself to get too far ahead instead of concentrating on what was right now. How can someone tell you how you do something right or wrong if they have never read what you have written? How can you trust what articles are telling to do if you have nothing but a few chapters to apply the advice to? Sure, you might break some rules, but every author breaks rules or nobody would be better than anyone else. How would an author become somebody's favourite if they didn't have their own style and we are all the same?

If you are too shy to come out and ask a friend or family to read something, there are some very lovely sites available - for free! - which can help you reach the point in your writing where you feel comfortable sitting back and saying, "Here I am, and this is my story." You will learn more by doing, trust me. And maybe you'll be lucky like I was and meet someone who encourages you to keep going. Once I found someone who loved my story enough to ask for more - and keep asking even when I thought it was garbage - it pushed me to keep going because they needed to hear what happened next. Suddenly, I had someone to please, and wrote the first four novels of my series in just a few short months (November 2013 to April 2014). So, if you're someone who needs some encouragement but is too shy to ask someone they know, ask a stranger. If nothing else, you'll learn your worth and work harder to please. With everything, though, you must be prepared for the critics and grow a thicker skin. Just remember, every bad review is one person's opinion, and the only voice that should matter is your own. These people are strangers who you don't know, and no author can please every reader.

If you think you're ready, try starting with one of these:

- www.WritersCafe.org
- www.MyWriter'sCircle.com

If you are a younger writer wanting the opinion of your peers or a more laid-back response, try one of these two:

- www.Wattpad (be sure to check out the forums)
- www.Figment.com

If you have more than 10,000 words written, perhaps try this, which is run by Harper Collins:

- www.Authonomy.com

Are you there yet? Have you posted your very first article or story? Leave a comment and send me a link! I would love to read it.

Sincerely,


Sasha Leigh