Why is Writing so Difficult?

Once you have mastered the alphabet, grasped the grammar and practised punctuation; listened, learned, read and re-read, writing should be easy, shouldn’t it?  As a writer you have the tools, you have the texts and you have the time, and yet writing is difficult. It is elusive, sometimes you catch it and sometimes you don’t, that elusive Muse. 

Let me reassure you that you are far from crazy, and everyone who has ever attempted to write anything longer than a limerick has shared your experience. Sometimes we have all the skills and we don’t know what to say. The Muse is elusive. That is why it is incredibly important to be ready for it. Have paper or a keyboard, have a pen or pencil, have a working knowledge of your language or several, know what constitutes the correct form for articles, essays, novels, blog posts; be prepared.

Be prepared for the Wrestle, because make no mistake there will be a battle between the Muse and the You. Sometimes the Muse will want to inspire us and the You will refuse to comply because, well people may not like what we do. On the other hand they might like what we do, and want another one, and we may not be able to produce another one because the muse is elusive. We really get in our own way when things are worthwhile.

Let me tell you a truth that holds for every writer this planet has ever produced.

There is never a wasted word.

Nothing you produce is ever wasted, even if it is poor in quality. How do you think writers get to the good stuff? We keep creating the words until we make some with merit and even those we polish.

Be prepared. Show up. Keep creating.

And when You pronounce yourself, not good enough, not correct, not worth listening to, channel your inner sulky teenager with a hearty

“Yeah, Whatever.”

and

Be prepared. Show up. Keep creating.

Writing is Difficult. The Muse is elusive, but we all know the answer to that don’t we?

Be….

 

 

Lost your Voice?

When you first start editing your own work you might check your spelling, grammar and punctuation, but some of the first questions that your Editor will ask involve Voice and tone. What exactly do they mean by Voice and tone?

It really is very simple. Just think about your own voice, your speaking voice, barring infirmity or accident we all have one and it is uniquely ours. I imagine that family members can tell you from a relative by voice alone. We recognise each other by voice and our voice can tell the world a great deal about us. Where were we born? Have we travelled? What about education, class, ambition? We all make assumptions about those based on voice. That is our speaking voice.

Now imagine your Writing voice. It is just as uniquely yours and it tells the world about you but instead of pitch and lilt we talk about language choice and phrasing. Your writing voice is the expression of your personality on the page and we make the same assumptions about personality and upbringing from grammatical and language choices.

Now consider Tone. We are all used to the idea of tone of voice and none of us would consider using the same tone with a toddler and with our bank manager. The tone of our voice needs to be appropriate to the situation whether we are speaking or writing. This is why a seasoned editor might raise a question mark over the tone of your writing.

Things become more complex when you introduce characters into your writing. Each of these characters will have a Voice and during the course of your writing several tones. It is the job of the Editor to make sure that the Voices of your characters remain consistent throughout your work. To make sure that they do not slip. Any voice slippage should be marked on your manuscript for correction.

Voice slippage is a very common error in even the most seasoned writer’s work. It usually simply means that instead of responding or writing as our character we have become involved in our work and are writing as ourselves. Easily done.

So as you see, there is no mystery to Voice and a good editor is there to make sure that you never lose yours.

 

 

 

 

When All is Said and Done

Why do I write?

It’s a question that I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the last few days. People write for different reasons. For some it’s catharsis. For others it’s communication. Some people have a clear audience in mind and others have no audience in mind, they simply have words which need to be said. Some writers want to explore complex ideas and emotions and some have no idea what they are going to explore when they sit down. I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way to approach a writing project with the possible proviso that finishing is always better than not.

I have come to the conclusion that I write because I love it. I write because there are stories. When all is said and done and on the page, I am finished and I move on. I don’t hunt readers because it isn’t about the readers. In a sense it’s a very selfish joy. I try to put each story on the page to the best of my ability. I consciously try to improve with each one I write. I complete it and I check it and then I let it out into the world to sink or swim on its own merits.

The joy is all in the writing, and it’s this joy that keeps me coming back time and time again to put more words on the page. Even in the difficult times, the wordless days. The moments when I have to pull my ideas kicking and screaming from my imagination or seek them out in the darkest corners of my mind.

It isn’t an easy job and it isn’t often a well paid job. It’s mostly a very heavily criticised job where everyone you meet feels qualified to give you a performance review, but it’s my job and I love it.

And Readers, before you leave feeling unappreciated, you should know that even after all this time I am still amazed, surprised and gratified by every single reader who takes the time and the trouble to read my work. It’s a gift I don’t demand and I never expect.

Thank you

 

 

In the write mood

Today has been a tricky day. Most of my days toddle along quietly and simply enough. I have my routines and I know them. I have my children’s schedule and I follow it. With a slim margin for error I get most people to most places most of the time. Today was different. Today I slept in.

Now most of my family are alarm clock enabled, some of them have several alarms on several electronic devices, and yet I was running from room to room this morning throwing bananas (read breakfast) at moving targets to the war cry

” You can finish dressing in the car! “

To cut a long story short everyone arrived and a frazzled me sat down at my laptop and stared at a screen as blank as my imagination. I really wasn’t in the mood. I could have just walked away and considered the day a non-starter, but I didn’t. Instead I wrote about my awful morning and how frustrated I was getting everyone to the right place. I wrote about my less than stellar waitressing ability and my lack of imagination. In fact I wrote to you.

And now my page is no longer blank and my imagination is no longer empty. I am going to sit and produce my daily word count with a happy heart. So Thank you!

I wonder if there are any bananas left.

 

 

Social Media

Today I have been pondering the vagaries of Twitter, Facebook and social media in general.

I have come to the conclusion that targeted advertising can be a very good thing if it is targeted well. We receive so much information on a daily basis. I for one receive a huge number of requests and suggestions about what to read. I would love to read everything but I have to be honest here and say that I am very unlikely to read most of it. Heck, I’m a writer. I haven’t even managed to read all my own work.

So, why do we writers advertise to other writers? Why do we collect them?

 The answer to that question is that “Bird’s of a feather flock together” we really do. We like to see how things are going in the writing world. We like to glean ideas and to be able to judge ourselves against some imagined chart of success. We are nosy. We also want to feel part of a gang. That is a perfectly normal and wonderful thing and balm to the soul when you are sitting in a darkened room with your fifth coffee and another first draft. We simply need to remember that these are our people and not our audience. Of course we are all pretty happy to bump up each others Twitter “followship” that goes without saying.

Successful PR is targeted PR. Every so often we should check our strategy to see whether we are putting our work in front of the right people; the people before you who will buy and not just the people behind you, who will back you all the way.

Change is a good thing

I have never been gifted with telling the future but there is one certainty that confronts each of us, things change. The changes that have been happening in the world of publishing over the last five years have thrown hopes and expectations into the air and we are all still waiting for them to land. We are coming to terms with new technology. Any advance has positive and negative implications for those working in the industry but the movement towards digital self-publishing has changed things in a way no-one anticipated. There is a great deal of discussion around the relevance of publishing houses in this new brave world. Things change.

Insecurity often makes people feel that they have to make a decision, take a stand, have a firm opinion. We like to know what we know, you know. 

Well, I know one thing. I fully support any and all means of championing the written word. We need more writing of a good quality. Traditional publishers have always been driven by the bottom line to produce work which will sell to the masses. Often the sale of such works supports the development of more literary projects. I doubt this will change. Self publishing will produce a vast quantity of lower quality work it is true but it will also give an opportunity to the gifted to produce breathtaking work of literary beauty without having to rely on a publisher’s previous sales of Diary of the Stig part 2.

Low or lower quality work is no threat to the publishing industry and those authors who produce excellent work will earn their stripes before submitting to publishing houses. Editors will include the banner headline ” Why aren’t you selling? ” on their websites and the world will continue to turn. Wordsmiths will continue to produce the words. We monkeys will make magic.

Sometimes it’s good to remember that no matter how big the change the important things stay the same.

Words are Freedom

Consider the blank page before you. Does it make you anxious?
Are you feeling time pressure?

Do you realise that you are god?

In the universe of this page, you rule. Dive to the depths of the ocean. Visit other galaxies. Live the life of a soccer mom. Drive the despair of a serial killer. Paint the colours of the forest. Write the words you can never say. Invent a community. Change history. Delete time and re-arrange it.

Words are Freedom.

Be free.

The Illustrated Man

I am currently re-reading The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury.
It’s a book that I recommend to every writer.
It is a collection of masterful short stories held together by an eerie overarching narrative. It’s by turns engaging and disturbing. Something for everyone.

” The sun was gone. Now the first stars were shining and the moon had brightened the fields of grass and wheat. Still the Illustrated man’s pictures glowed like charcoals in the half light, like scattered rubies and emeralds, with Rouault colours and Picasso colours and long pressed out El Greco bodies.
“So people fire me when my pictures move. They don’t like it when violent things happen in my illustrations…”

Keep the Faith

Writing can be an isolating experience. We throw ourselves into the worlds of our imagination. We lock horns with the intangible. We love and lose, talk of guile and greed. We engage with our internal inquisitor. It can seem a very narcissistic occupation. 

The truth is that the sheer effort of writing well tends to weed out the self important and the showboater. It leaves a honed core of truly dedicated observers. We watch the world. Does that make our opinions more important than those of anyone else? More important? No. Better informed? Perhaps.

Writers are no more important than anyone else in the world. Writers are also no less important than anyone else in the world. We are its voice. So keep ploughing through that draft. Keep papering the wall with your rejections. Keep learning to use the subjunctive. Keep editing. Keep growing.

This is who you are

and it’s good.