Saturday, 26 January 2013

Reasons Why We Write – Part 2

We continue our look at the reasons why we write and the characteristics that make us so distinct. 
We all have specific reasons why we write, and not everyone does it for egotistical or monetary reasons, or the need to be the centre of attention. 

Some people write for the simple enjoyment of telling stories.

I write because I just want to entertain

Who doesn’t?  Money or fame isn’t so important to this type, just so long as someone, somewhere, reads what they have written and enjoys it.  These writers like to know that what they’ve written interests the reader, that it makes an impact somehow.  Their satisfaction comes from this knowledge.

These types may not be as serious as the ones who are driven by the raw love of writing, but they enjoy the process nonetheless.  These types are usually great short story writers; they instinctively know what their readers want, they seem to tune into it.  The result is an entertaining good read.

I write because I’m brilliant at it

One thing is certain in life – people who shout loudest about how good they are at something are the worst failures at it.

Ergo, writers who blow their own trumpet too often are usually not as brilliant as they make out.  It’s a psychological prop – if we brag and boast about our talent often enough, we start to believe it, and once that happens it must mean it’s true.  That may be so in your front room and in your mind, but the reality of the publishing world is quite different.

If you shout too often and too loud about your fantastic writing talent, then it’s very likely the people you want to impress the most – publishers and editors – will balk at such blasé behaviour.  Arrogance – especially the authorial kind – will do you no favours.

There are plenty of writers who assume their work is worthy of winning every competition they enter, or they react with complete shock if their MSS is rejected by an agent or publisher; having been so convinced their fantastic work would be snapped up immediately and turned into a bestseller, not once considering that the work might be substandard.

There are writers who quickly become wrapped up with their own smugness, because Auntie Gertrude said how wonderful they are, and friends and family gush over their stories, if only to make them feel better. 
Our loved ones never really tell it like it is.  They won’t tell you that your work is utter rubbish.  They will tell you what you want to hear, thus perpetuating a myth. 

The best people to assess your writing are the editors, agents and publishers.

There is nothing wrong with a little subtle, self-congratulatory back-slapping every now and then, when it’s truly deserved, but writers should never let arrogance become bigger than they are.  It’s very unbecoming. 

We all start at the bottom and rise with experience.  How we behave on the way up will be a measure of the person who makes it to the top.

If you are a talented writer then let your writing do the talking for you.

I write to make sense of the world

Many of us fall into this category.  The insatiable need to find out why we do the things we do, the kind of things that make humans tick, fascinates us.  Writing entails the need to explain the human condition, to try to make sense of the world around us. 

That, essentially, is what writing is all about.

And this need to make sense of the world forms the backbone of the narrative – the very reason for themes and plots, good and evil characters, and of course, motivation.

I do lend a lot from this particular category for my own writing.  The relationship between humans, the relationship between nature and Gods and monsters; they all fascinate and they all require exploration. 

We all do things that sometimes are out of character, or irrational, or we may be forced to make decisions that could have far reaching consequences.  We are always faced with questions about life, but rarely take the time to sit down and answer them.  We do the things we do for a reason. 

And that’s where writing finds its strength.

Lastly, the one category that all writers belong to…

I write because I can

Perhaps the very reason we write is because we can.  And we do. 

Right from the very moment our ancestors started telling stories, to the moment they started to write them down, it was because they could.  It was an important part of how they could explain things, to make sense of their world.  For that very reason, the art of storytelling will never change.

There are probably numerous other reasons why we write, but certainly some of these are the main ones that most of us tend to fall into. 

So, what about you?  Why do you write?

Next week: Dealing with rejection.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Reasons Why We Write – Part 1

This is a light-hearted look at the reasons why we write.  Every writer is individual, so are their reasons for writing.  Some of us do it for pleasure, some of us do it for money, some of us do it to entertain and some of us do it to make sense of the world around us. 
Some of us do it because it helps with our problems to turn situations into stories.  And of course, some of us do it for other reasons.  There are probably way too many to mention them all, but certainly some of the main ones relate to most of us.

Being a writer isn’t all about sitting back and tapping away on a keyboard and letting the words do it all for you.  It’s one of the hardest, loneliest jobs in the world.  It takes a certain kind of dedication and selfishness to shut oneself away to work, meaning spouses, children, family and friends come second.  It takes days, months or even years. 

And not all writers can go the distance.

So, why do we write? You might recognise yourself in many of these “writerly” types:

I write for the simple pleasure

There are plenty of writers who are not interested in seeing their name in print so much as simply seeing their words come to life.  The joy of writing – producing something tangible and lasting, something that brings a smile and a certain amount of satisfaction - is all they need.  It is a way of escapism, somewhere both the writer and their imagination can migrate to for a short while.

These types quite often write not just for themselves, but for friends and family, a true hobby rather than a career choice.  They simply like to write just for the sheer pleasure it gives them.

I write purely for the money and fame

Unless you are the next big thing (and you are lucky enough to get a decent publishing contract worth millions), writing won’t earn you a huge amount of money. Fact. 

It is often mooted that new writers shouldn’t start out on their writing journey with pound or dollar signs in their eyes, and with good reason, too – because the reality is very different.
The majority of writers make some money, but not a lot.  They have to work very hard for little return, which is why many writers still work full time or part time to bring in a solid, stable income.  They have to fit in their writing around the normal working day.

Of course, there are those who are lucky enough to receive a steady income from writing, such as freelancers, or those who have written a bestseller, however, a sense of perspective is wise when it comes to fame and fortune in the writing world, otherwise the vast majority will end up bitterly disappointed.

I write because I’m exorcising my problems

You might not think writers actually write because of this, but plenty do.  These writers tend find solace in prose or poetry by weaving their inner most problems or issues within the words they write.  In a sense, it is a form of escapism; that these writers are willing to lay bare their emotions so readily, and the results, surprisingly, are often gritty and true to life, which means readers can relate to them.  
Writing is about escapism; from life, kids, work, family, our inner thoughts, from everything that happens around us, and sometimes the reality of life seeps into the imaginary life of stories.

We’ve all done it to a greater or less degree, sometimes without realising.  But there are some writers do it all the time by filtering the difficulties of life into their writing. 
The irony for these writers is that by exorcising life’s problems this way, the narrative is full of realism and perspective, and they make for compelling stories or poems. 

I write because I need to

This kind of writer does it because it’s in their blood.  The love of the written word has possessed them from an early age.  These writers do it because they simply love to write and they tend to get restless if they are not writing. 
For some, writing is their whole life, and they get withdrawals if they don’t write.

Not only that, but they write because they want to give something to the world; a contribution to readers in the form of stories.  For a writer, there is no greater joy than your words producing reaction and emotion in your readers.

I knew from the age of nine that I wanted to be a writer, despite my artistic gift of painting, drawing and sculpting.  I wasn’t interested in the obvious route of art school, because the love of writing won out in the end. 
I’ve been fortunate to have worked both in the publishing and printing industry, and I first became published at 19.  I’ve never looked back.  I continue to do what I love; my affair with writing will never end.

For me, the motivation wasn’t money, but simply the need to write.  And that’s true of this type of writer.  We just need to write.

Next week: Reasons why we write – Part 2

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Power of Words

It’s easy to write a novel, and just as easy to write short stories, anyone can do it, can’t they?

Well, not quite.  Anyone can write a novel or churn out short stories, but not all writers can actually write well, so whether they are any good is down to the talent and capability of the writer.  Those who think that it’s an easy process need a stark reality check, because writing fiction is an often difficult, problem-filled, labour intensive job, and they don’t always appreciate how complex writing can be.

In reality, the love of the written word is very much ingrained in those who want to write.  There also has to be a modicum of flair and ability to begin with.  For some, writing has been in their blood since childhood.  This means that not everyone can simply wake up one day and decide to be a writer.  It takes talent, dedication and a lot of hard work.

And writing isn’t just about churning out as many words as possible and making it all kind of make sense either.  It’s about understanding the power of words.  It’s about using the right words at the right time to give the right impact. 

Words have the ability evoke our emotions; influence our mood and thoughts, as well as the ability to entertain us. 

Using the right words makes the narrative stand out; it enriches the writing beyond expectation.  How often do we sit back and look at the power of the words we create?  How often do we amaze ourselves with what we have written? 

Every now and then we might read an amazing line in a book, or a phrase that sticks in our mind, or a snippet of dialogue or description that stops us in our tracks and makes us think.  That’s because the writer has given us ‘a touch of genius’, a phrase or line or description that perfectly captures something, all through the power of words. 

Everyone knows their incredible power – they can move us, hurt us, scare us or lighten us etc. And it’s not just ‘genius’ phrases or sentences that enrich the writing, it’s also the way we construct the narrative that helps influence the power of words.

For example, look at these two sentences:

Her eyes shuttered against a bright light.

Her eyes shuttered against a despicable light.

They are quite ordinary sentences.  But one sentence is very different to the other, and that is because one evokes a stronger feeling than the other.  ‘Bright light’ evokes more of a soothing, lighter feel, perhaps it’s the glare of the sun, but ‘despicable light’ is much darker, there is something dreadful or foreboding here. 

Also notice the choice of ‘a’ instead of ‘the’ in the sentences.  A light, rather than the light.  This is to separate a generalisation that ‘the’ suggests.  ‘A’ is more specific, and when coupled with the right adjective, it provides greater impact. 

That’s the power of words.

Good narrative is all down to a writer’s choice of words, it’s about choosing the right verbs and nouns and adjectives, it’s about understanding the meaning of the words and their construction order, and the emotions you want to convey with them.

There is a lot of confusion for writers about whether to substitute some ‘bland’ words for more evocative words within their descriptions.  Many writers see this as being overly pretentious to resort to the thesaurus, when the original word would suffice.  This can be a problem if the writer does it all the time, making the narrative ridiculously flowery by trying to use ever more descriptive words.  But again, it is about choice of words, in the right places, in the right scenes, at the right time.

There is nothing wrong with finding better words that help you describe something (just not too many of the type that leaves your readers scratching their heads and leafing through a dictionary to find out what you mean). A new word or two is enlightening, and using better words is what brings description to life, after all.

To illustrate how word choice makes such an important difference to the narrative, I’ve included the excerpt below, from one of my flash fiction pieces, Alone on the Hill:

‘Polonius blinked against the haze and dust, pulled his sagum around his shoulders.  A forest of crafted crosses stretched into the distance, scattered the light, but all he could see were scarlet ribbons wrapped around branchless cedars’.

A forest of crafted crosses… Scarlet ribbons wrapped around branchless cedars.  These sentences stand out for several reasons – images, symbolism and emotion, to mention just a few.  I could, however, have written something insipid, like:

‘Polonius blinked against the haze and dust, pulled his sagum around his shoulders.  A line of crosses stretched into the distance, scattered the light, but all he could see was blood dripping down the wood’.

While there is nothing wrong with this description, it doesn’t have the power that the original narrative does, it doesn’t evoke much, and that’s all down to word choice within the description, and the way it is constructed.

Remember, the right words at the right time, to give the right impact.
  • Think about the meaning or imagery/symbolism or emotion you want to convey.
  • Pick the right, evocative words - can you replace bland words with more evocative ones?
  • Does the construction have that little ‘touch of genius’?  Never be afraid to tinkering with word order.
  • Does your word order pack that descriptive punch?

Above all, never underestimate the power of words.  They are a lot more powerful than you realise.

Next week: Reasons why we write.