By Allie Anders
The first step to becoming a writer is to want to write something. I don’t mean to want to be a writer. How many people look out into the garden and say, Oh, I want to be a gardener. I want to put on those big gloves and boots and get out into that mud and transform it?
Those who do are real gardeners. But many others imagine the garden already all tidy and beautiful, with borders full of flowers and never any weeding to be done. They envisage the completed garden. It’s the same with some people who want to be writers – they imagine the completed book and none of the toil that goes into it. But you have to want to actually write – to long to do it – before you can become a writer. Let no one tell you anything different, because it simply isn’t true.
To want to write something you will have it running through your mind so that it’s already turning into sentences and paragraphs as you think about it. It really is like a baby bursting to come out. When this happens you won’t be worrying about finding a pretty pen to write with or where to place your desk or table so the sunshine falls on it during the afternoon. You will be grabbing the first biro that comes to hand and falling on the first piece of paper you find – an old envelope or whatever – and the words will be spilling out without your worrying about their shape or form. This is how you sow your literary garden. The tidying up (trimming and strimming) can come later.
So, to start writing you need to begin thinking of something – anything – that evokes passion in you, that you want to tell the world about. It doesn’t have to be to do with a particular issue or even a hobby. It can be an actual incident in your past. Have you ever had a big row with someone – your mother or mother-in-law, your boss or a co-worker? Think back over what it felt like till you feel your blood begin to boil all over again. Now you’re getting there.
Now, take up your pen and notebook, or sit down at the computer. Start putting down words without paying too much attention to them. Don’t worry about describing what anything looked like, unless it’s really vivid in your memory – for example, the colour of the lampshade someone hit you with. All that can be added later. Just try to
capture the emotion, the thoughts that were running through your head, whatever will add colour to the experience itself rather than to the things surrounding it. It is emotion that brings a piece of writing to life, pouring out like blood from a wound.
Because you do have to allow yourself to be wounded if you are to write down the things you feel churning around inside you. Even if you are writing a genre story, you need to find the vein to open in yourself to let the blood (emotion) flow out in a way that will make readers gasp, whether with pleasure or shock or horror.
Once you have started writing – broken the ground, so to speak – it is important that you write every day. It doesn’t matter what you write, just that you do, and that you allow your emotion to flow while you’re doing it. You might not be able to sit down for a formal writing session. Most of us have commitments to work, family, other projects. It is still writing if you just pick up the nearest scrap of paper and jot down something. But do it.
Eventually, though, you will have to start gathering these jottings together if they are to be of use to you, so it might be better to just use a notebook or the computer in the first place. A diary is a wonderful repository. If you get one of the great big A4 page-a-day ones and write just one page each night of anything – a memory, something that happened during the day, or your deepest feelings about something – this time next year you will have 365 pages, a very respectable size for a book.
As a novel, it probably won’t be in the right order, unless you had a plan clearly outlined in your head when you started. But it will be there in a form which you can sort into something coherent and, hopefully, good enough to be published once you’ve edited it (weeded your garden, that is).
So, back to the writing itself: when we’re recalling an event emotionally, we don’t think, Okay, so I woke up yesterday and had my breakfast, and then went to buy my newspaper… No, what we think is, The cheek of that bitch coming at me like that just because Joe and I were having a good time together. What did she mean, I was trying to steal her boyfriend? We can be friends, can’t we, without wanting to jump into bed together?
You start with the emotion of the situation and then, when you’re a bit calmer, you begin to rationalise it to yourself, remembering how the day started or where you first met someone, almost like providing yourself with backstory. But it’s the emotion that gets you thinking about what happened, and it’s the same with your readers.
Starting with someone staring out the rain-spotted window evokes no corresponding emotion in them. Plunging them right into the moment something important is happening will.
Another thing – from now on you should be sure to always have somewhere handy to jot down ideas. Once again, it can be the back of an envelope, but it’s a lot easier to have your thoughts in one place than than to have to gather all the envelopes and scraps of paper from the four corners of your life when you need them. Apart from the danger of throwing them away by mistake, of course.
The thing about ideas is that, like dreams, you are always sure when you first have them that you will remember them but, sadly, most vanish into the ether never to appear again. Even those you do manage to hold onto, you may not recall in exactly the same emotion-filled way they first arrived.
So when jotting down the idea, also put down any keywords that came with it, or even a sentence as it ran through your mind. It is in this form that you will be able to open up to the original idea in all its brilliance (because they always are brilliant, to you at least, or you wouldn’t have been riveted by them in the first place).
Finally, a brief word about writing properly. Way back in some mythical time in the past there were apparently people called editors who combed through writers’ error-strewn work to find the gold nuggets which would eventually be published.
Whether or not this ever actually happened, now you have to take responsibility for your work yourself. Don’t think it doesn’t matter if your spelling, grammar or punctuation aren’t right, or that no one will notice. It does matter and many people will notice and be annoyed at your lack of professionalism, which will spoil your story for them, no matter how wonderful it might be.
The draft of your novel is a bit like your house when there’s just you living there. You might be comfortable with all kinds of little flaws and quirks in it. But when you want to sell the house you simply have to tidy it up and redecorate if necessary to make it look its best for potential purchasers. That’s just common sense.
So if your own decorating or housekeeping skills aren’t up to it, you need to get someone with these to run an honest eye over your work. Only allow this to be your mother, son or favourite aunt if you can be sure they really will be honest. Responses such as, ‘Oh, that’s lovely,’ are no use whatsoever to you unless your relative is also a publisher or agent prepared to take you on as a writer.
This article is by Allie Anders, author of The Fairytale Quest, a children’s fantasy. In this story Toni is tricked into swapping her baby brother for a unicorn and has to go to Fairyland to try to get him back before her parents find out. The book is out on Kindle now, and the website http://thefairytalequest.com will tell you all about it.
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