On writing

Writing is just such a joyful and therapeutic experience, so I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t do it!  Of course we do, every day.  We craft words in one medium or another to send emails, Facebook statuses, texts, reports, whatever it happens to be.  Marshalling and manipulating words into a tight, cohesive, succinct body with clear collective meaning can be remarkably difficult and frustrating, but when it works well it satisfies us greatly.

Ah, but most people think there is writing and then there is WRITING, the latter being a transcendent form of language used by people bestowed with some magical gift in order to get into print.  Granted that many people use written language to earn a crust, but the principle that there is something different about them is wrong on two counts:  firstly, anyone with a basic education in whatever language can write – they are constrained only by their imagination and ambition; secondly, there is any amount of tosh in print, and almost anybody can do better in some instances.  Some friends think I have a gift for words, though I humbly submit that I am no better or worse than anybody else – I just try to apply the skills I do possess in the hope that someday it will pay dividends in some form, with making people think chief among them…

You can write out of sheer pleasure and/or because you have something to say.  You might have an idea buzzing around your head that you want to convey to written format.  It may be a small idea or something you just want to get off your chest, in which case blogging may be the perfect answer, and a more stable long-term alternative to trying to enter journalism.

Blogging is democratisation of the written word.  So long as you don’t defame you can write your own arguments online and distribute your material to whomsoever you like – not just the stuff you do day-by-day but anything on which you happen to hold a strong opinion.  You don’t even need your own website, though setting up mine was an excellent and not especially expensive decision – try one of the thousands of free blogging sites, like Live Journal for example.

Admittedly, if you’re going to write something more seriously, it needs to be a little more planned and less spontaneous than knocking off a quick blog, but the joy is often in the writing itself.  The think you need to do is read stuff, as much as possible, then practice writing, even if it’s only half an hour a day.  Learn how to avoid cliches and to develop your own style, write with panache and entertain your reader.  There’s definitely a craft to all this that must be honed, just as an artist will perfect his technique over a long period.  Don’t ever expect to get it right first time, and also remember that no matter how many times you read through a script and get others to do likewise, a professional proofreader and copy editor may well be worth their weight in gold – they will see things you can’t see, given that you are way too close and the work is your baby.

One small word of warning, courtesy of my first epic.  This was my MBA dissertation on the subject of Knowledge Management (about which I shall blog on a future occasion), a tome which now sits proudly on my shelves here.  I quote David Snowden, who came up with the rules of knowledge, one of which states:  “We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down” – in other words, the process of retelling the story loses content and context.  So it is with writing: somehow what comes out on the page never seems to match the memory of what you intended to say; in the mechanical recovery process of transcribing and moulding into words, it loses power, so you have to fashion and shape it to the closest approximation of your intentions.  And for that to work, you have to work at it.

Done well, writing is hard graft, requiring concentration and fine attention to detail, but the reward comes through perseverance and achievement – completing the work, getting positive feedback, achieving what you sent out to achieve, and more: it will give you an incredible feeling of well-being to gain positive reinforcement, which is no bad thing.

I’ve written one novel and a substantial part of a second.  In both cases, I’ve developed characters and situations.  I know the mechanics of what will happen in any given chapter, but the characters form a life of their own and start doing things to surprise me.  Eventually they do as they are told and perform as required, but along the way they might do or say all manner of things, the mischievous little devils!

This unpredictability is without doubt part of the fun, though the flipside is the dreaded writer’s block.  It may be procrastination or sheer laziness, but there’s no doubt that lack of inspiration and/or motivation to write communicates itself through the finished article.  In one sense, if you have planned out your work you can force yourself to carry on though the finished text may reads like you’ve written it under the influence of valium.  After all, anything done under duress is hardly likely to be as good as anything written while you are burning with enthusiasm.  If you’ve been dragged kicking and screaming through your prose, the reader will read this between the lines.  If you want to write, go for it, hell for leather!!!

If you insist on publication, there are plenty of journals and sources available.  Self-publication is always an option, though it can be rather an expensive one; ePublication is a cheaper route, though you will have to get many friends to download your epic to make any money out of it. I published Catastrophe, my thriller for teenagers, via Amazon Kindle.  There is the formal route you try: write a novel, play, poems, work of non-fiction, whatever it happens to be; submit to agents, who may choose to represent you if that happens to be what they are looking to sell; the agent may then eventually engage the interest a publisher,  who may but probably won’t deem you worthy of publication; so you persevere, and just a handful of new authors will eventually make it into print and on the shelves of booksellers everywhere.

My point though is simple: write for the pleasure of you, friends and family first and foremost.  If you do eventually earn money out of it, all well and good. Just gain pleasure to begin with, feel better about yourself and write more!

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