An idea, a pen, and some paper

An idea, a pen and some paper. That is all you need to write a brilliant novel! “Just watch me,” says the visionary: “I am creative, I have talent! I can do anything!”

It is true, you can. But it’s not that easy.

Here is my down-to-earth advice: the best way to prepare yourself for the life of a writer is to brace for disappointment. When you take up this craft, you also take the first step towards one of two realisations: that you cannot quite put that great idea in your mind into words, or that you only thought you could.

The main problem is that we are biased when it comes to our own writing. We already have the images in our heads, so when we read what we have written, those images are summoned again. “Great!” we think. “I wrote it so well that I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye!”

I admit I am a bit cynical. Everyone who reads a book will see something different in their mind and that is fine. In fact, that is part of what makes writing a unique and powerful medium even in this age of wanton digital entertainment. The real challenge lies in writing well enough to give your readers images that ring true with your vision.

Please understand that I am not telling you to stop trying. Quite the opposite; you need to write a lot to get anywhere because failure is a natural part of learning. You already know that and would accept it if you were learning almost anything else. You can’t build a house from scratch or even ride a bike on your first try. If you have never studied biology, you will fail a biology exam. These are all obvious. Now understand this simple fact: writing is the same.

There is a lot of good advice out there on blogs, in writing communities and in books about the craft. But there are no five steps to becoming a good writer. There is no single book, method or list of tricks that will suddenly make you successful. You need to figure that out by yourself by trying, failing, and trying again. You will have to tailor your method from a patchwork of what others have done before you. Because writers are individuals and writing is not a precise craft.

But it is a craft, make no mistake about that. So arm yourself with a good understanding of the underlying mechanics. You should always be looking to learn new vocabulary, and if words are bricks then grammar is the mortar; you cannot build without it. You also need to understand the basic concepts of setting a scene, characterisation, imagery, voice, and narrative. Do not expect it to be easy: nothing good ever is.

To sum it up in words worthy of a motivational poster: do not be afraid of failing, be afraid of not trying.

What this means is that your journey might be longer than you hoped but also more rewarding. There will be more hurdles than your expected, more problems, more issues. All of this will become surmountable if you adopt an attitude that will serve you well in all things you do; do not get so lost in anticipation of the final goal that you cannot appreciate the wonderful things you are learning on your way there.

I am a harsh realist, so this is about as motivational as I am likely to get. But I am also, like you, a dreamer. Yes, it is entirely possible to dream and be realistic at the same time. You need that dream to spur you onwards; then you need to settle back down into reality, buckle up and do the work to achieve it.

Now get back to your writing.

2 Responses

  1. I like that you are brutally honest which is we really need in today’s world. I watch Aaron Clarey’s videos as well. His ideology is similar to yours. He charge people for his advice but he gives a straight forward answer and that is far more worthy than hearing lies all your life.
    Yes, it is true failure is everywhere wherever you go. There is no point in stopping. If you stop, you won’t learn anything.
    Some people think that reading and writing is ‘pointless’ and ‘boring’. People give more emphasis on entertainment but they do not realize what they’re missing on.
    Even the greatest of musicians had to do that ‘boring’ work of learning. Without learning and trying, everything is useless, not just a particular craft.

  2. There are surprisingly few who are willing to give an honest opinion on creative works (without sounding or being mean). I am a part of several writing communities, and a lot of the time what I see is people constantly patting each others backs and telling each other how great they are. Don’t get me wrong, people need positive reinforcement and support as well, but no one is ever served by only being told that everything they do is ‘just wonderful’. My first and foremost goal is always to improve the writing of the people I help; that requires honesty and sometimes, uncomfortable truths.

What do you think?