The Secret to Writing
The Secret to Writing
I lead a quiet life. I really do, and most often, my car’s battery is flat. When I do venture out of my cave and I am amongst polite company, I’m often asked what I do for a living. The answer is simple: I write full-time, and I help other authors with their covers, editing, and formatting to pay the bills.
Inevitably, I get the wide-eyed, awe-inspired look. For a split second, I am that person’s rock star. I must confess that I do feel both uncomfortable and a sense of wellbeing. Very soon, conversation weaves around to the topics that I write about, and how many books I have completed. This is important to people, of course, as it leads to credibility. Yes, I know, it is silly, but it is so nevertheless.
I don’t like to talk about my books to be honest. In some respects, the conversation bores me, but I know that the interest is genuine, and if I hope to gain a new fan, I must be enthusiastic. I write, live, and edit my books for a lengthy period of time. You can say that I’ve overdosed on my latest book. You must understand that I’m not bored with writing — I’m just tired of selling.
Invariably, the conversation takes a new direction and the person may tell me that he or she has a book to write — when they get the time, of course. I’m often asked for advice, as it makes sense to ask a person about a subject that he or she is au fait with, not so? It would make little sense to ask a baker how to weld a refrigerator together.
There is no secret to writing, and my answer is always the same: write! Naturally, I always get a rather disappointed look, and there is a part of me that gets a certain perverse pleasure in these moments. It cannot be! It cannot possibly be that simple! It can be, and it is indeed, that simple. It is not easy, but it is that simple.
Many people expect me to expound on the mysteries that make a great author successful, but honestly, no one really knows. What I do know is that you must write. Write regularly, and write prolifically. The more you write, the more is written, and the better a writer you become. The latter is not a given, of course. To become a better writer, you must learn and grow. Some writers merely continue writing the same old drivel without variation or pause.
So why must you write? The most obvious reason is so that there is something for people to read. You may have a book in your head, but unless you commit it to the written word, no one else can read it. There is no better time to write than right now, today, this minute, and in this very inspiration. As soon as you finish reading this article, go write something. That is how you become a writer, and eventually an author.
Another fundamental reason to write is so you can ‘learn’ to write. Understandably, we all know our ABCs, and that we should make correct use of punctuation, but we only know how effectively we convey our stories once we write them down. Any writer who takes his or her craft seriously must ask this basic question: Does this make any sense to someone else? If not, how can I rewrite it so that it does?
Your writing is not something venerable to be put on a pedestal. As a writer, you are intellectually and emotionally entangled in your own work. The most important lesson to be learnt is that we do not actually read our own writing. We ‘know’ what we have written and therefore we tend to gloss over the words. After all, we wrote them, didn’t we? The mind tends to get bored with this tedious task because it’s like watching the same television episode repeatedly for months on end.
Since we are not impartial, or capable of reading with a fresh eye, we need to get someone else to read it. Human beings do have their uses, after all. You don’t need an editor to tell you that a sentence or section makes no sense. Perhaps you forgot some punctuation, or even entire sentences that still feature in your brain, but that you failed to be write down at the time. When someone reads what you have written for the first time, he or she is trying to make sense of what is being presented. If it’s incoherent, the person is going to tell you precisely where it falls apart. Now, you can rewrite your sentences from a new perspective.
If you live isolated in a cave like me, you may not have many people on hand to test your prose. In this case, I strongly urge you to get a telephone cable connected. You will discover the whole World Wide Web out there. Make friends and bounce ideas around. Failing that, simply leave what you have written for long enough until it reads afresh.
As with any other discipline, practice makes you nuts, but it brings you one step closer to perfection. You may never achieve perfection, but it’s in the striving that you grow, and develop your mastery. A concert pianist does not become thus by lying on the couch dreaming of treble clefts. He excels by spending untold hours tickling, pounding, and caressing the ivories of a keyboard.
What else will help a motivated writer on his or her path? Read copiously because it will lead to the evolution of your penmanship, especially if you read works on the art of prose and grammar. Abusing creative licence and breaking basic rules are the ignorant tools of a lazy writer. When you comprehend the basics of the English language, you will understand that there is nothing creative in breaking the rules with little effect. You merely look illiterate.
In closing, let me leave you with a final word of advice: write!
Postscript: I wrote this piece a while back and it was originally published on Siobhan Daiko’s blog