Five Personal Writing Truths

A few months ago after I did a piece on writers block I was surprised by the amount of people who told me they were eager for other writing tips or simply wanted me to somehow give them the ‘secret’ of writing. So if you have looked in for something more topical and have little interest in writing, sorry, this week’s post is mostly for those guys because it is mainly my own loose ideas on the process of trying to get something out of your head and into some semblance of readable and hopefully sellable order. If you are still curious please stick around for a few minutes and read this.

1. Be Choosy – They say we all have a book in us but not Everything deserves to be published. Although there are some strong ego’s out there, I have yet to meet a writer who does not have the capacity to learn, not only from other writers but also from their own mistakes. How often do we hear about how some ‘famous’ writer now regrets some or even most of their earlier published work. Of course in years gone by there was a kind of belt and braces approach to getting your work out there because first and by no means least you had to find either an agent or publisher to accept your work. So then, in a critical world, even if that story now lacks something with the passage of time at least it went out, on paper, edited and presented to as high a standard as the publishing house could meet. Unfortunately (or fortunately as some believe) that completely changed with the arrival of the ebook, which heralded such a revolution in the way writers do business that nothing will ever be quite the same again.

old school kindle.jpg
Photo by goXunuReviews

Nook, Apple and Kobo are now big players in the ebook game but by far the biggest is Kindle. It is hard to believe nowadays but Amazon, who introduced Kindle in 2007, were once heralded as the saviour of traditional publishing. However, that all changed when Amazon introduced the Kindle self publishing service, where anyone, absolutely anyone irrespective of talent or motivation could publish an ebook and sell it, or even just give it away for free on Amazon.

2. Edit, re-edit and read While some established authors do embrace self publishing as an escape from the confines and low royalties of publishing houses and other talented writers finally found a means to get their quality work finally out there, there has also been a massive downside. With a lack of talent, imagination, grammar or integrity no longer a bar to publishing your own work online with the press of a button, cyberspace is now awash in a veritable ocean of, for want of a better word crap. Now someone who spent a few years on a book can find themselves listed alphabetically next to another book that was perhaps written over a drunken weekend by some friends, who didn’t overly concern themselves with structure, spelling or any semblance of a plot or literary narrative.

Reading a lot and reading as a critic can help you develop perhaps one of the most valuable talents a writer can ever have: the ability to self-edit. This can only be done by critically evaluating what works and doesn’t work in the fiction of others. Once you can pull that off, it becomes easier and easier to find flaws and strengths in your own work. So it is vital to develop this skill.

3. Concentrate on nouns and verbs for strong writing. I think that novice writers, or people who don’t write until it’s time to put together an email or letter or report, rely far too much on adjectives and adverbs. That is the primary thing I notice when it comes to spotting the difference between a quick idea simply thrown out there almost naked and a piece of work that someone has taken the time to edit, love and polish as the best they can do. The sad truth is that good writing almost always looks effortless – but to get to that you need to take a long time to get the absolutely right word into the right place. What is better writing: “quickly ran” or “sprinted?” “Large man” or “giant?” You get more done with less when you focus on the best nouns and verbs you can come up with. An adverb, to some, is an easy to find note to rethink that particular phrase — just look for the “ly” ending words and stare at it a while until the right verb comes along. I would never say get rid of all adverbs because sometimes the adverb is the best choice or the only choice. You will absolutely and definitely find adverbs in my writing, but I do try to consider them carefully… most of the time.

writing room

4.  “If you write something for which you were given a check, and that check did not bounce, and you paid the light bill with the money, then I consider you talented.” I recalled this Stephen King quote on the day I finally got paid for writing, and although the cheque didn’t bounce you never quite believe it, even when you see your work at number 9 on a national Bestseller List well on its way to Number 1. Goal-setting through inspiration works, so if you read or hear something that will give you courage or simply give you a push when you are blocked or suffering from that killer of so many promising writers – procrastination, write it down and hang it up somewhere you can see it easily. Just keep going and trust that one day you will get paid for something you wrote (an extremely difficult feat) because when you do there will be no question that you do have talent.

5.  Don’t succumb to procrastination, Finish it! Writing is sometimes like an endurance race. You start off with high hopes but as time goes by, running alone, with few people around to give you encouragement, you can begin to doubt that you can make it to the finish… but you can, you know you can if only you stick with it. Keep going, and don’t worry too much about making mistakes, you only learn by making them and can always come back later and pick them up in your edit. Finish your first draft and always, always, finish your projects. Why? Because you’ll be surprised at what happens by the time your “lost project” is done. You’ll be learning how to write by making mistakes, which you can always go back and fix it later. Maybe the second half of this story will end up being the first half of an even better tale because you were writing background the entire time, gaining momentum for the good stuff. But beware there will also be times when the lure of something new, sparkly and perfect comes along. A concept so amazing you tell yourself you should drop your crappy project immediately and start work on the real thing. You know what to do if this ever happens? You finish what you’re working on first, you finish, you finish, you finish it.


8 thoughts on “Five Personal Writing Truths

  1. Truths are all very well but what do you do if you have zero creativity in your little brain??? Come on tell all Mr B

  2. Sorry Rick – that is something I can’t really help you with. Although surely you have been inspired by a book or a movie? Surely…?

  3. Never seen myself as a producer, more of a consumer of fiction. Maybe that goes for Rick to? I agree 101% with your comments on the ocean of published crap Amazon has created. Although I hasten to add not Tales of the South Atlantic! Which I still recommend to my friends.

  4. Thank you for your ideas {I was one of your Twitter naggers, sorry?}
    Here in India we use English for business, legal and general prose more than people will admit to. I believe the rules are easier than some of our older languages because it was written down and made hard and fast. To me strong verbs and nouns are second nature because it has not been as contaminated as our mainstream or regional languages with modern slang and text speak.

    Many of the elders still say we should have banned English in public life after Partition but they never complain about India being a successful country because of English. Just look at Sri Lanka, who banned it on independence but now there is an English school on every street corner as they try to catch up with the business world.

    Best Wishes from Libra x

  5. I heard what you said about stronger noun and verb usage over adjective but in my own writing I don’t see an Adj as second best or lazy if it pops into my head much more naturally than a stronger noun. For me it would slow me down so I have to decide on quantity rather than quality with just the perfect word. Of course I have not published novels like you and may never do but I am a strong advocate of language that is ever changing rather than something that is hard and fast and bound up by rules. I am the reader you are the entertainer with your story. I am rather more interested in the flow and the ending than any syntax. Although I concede that modern writers do need more schooling in their structure and grammar and that it is not clever to break the rules of writing just because they are there to be broken.

    A good book, a good story will almost always find its way up for air and success if you just take the time to edit and re-edit of that I must agree with you 100% (unlike Greg who found you an extra 1% from somewhere) {:)B<

    • Thank you Marie – Please don’t get too hung up (not that you seem to be!) on my noun-verb v adj – adv ideas. As the title states they are my own ‘Personal Truths’. Everyone has their beliefs, and those were simply mine laid bare.
      Your last point on breaking the rules is very important. Yes they are there to help but if rules had not been broken, we would still be enduring copious volumes of dreary Victorian poetry, which constituted the bulk of writing output before the advent of the modern novel with mould shattering works like Madame Bovary and most of Charles Dickens’ literary canon.

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