Monday, 28 May 2012

10 Things I've Learned From Writing

1.  That the work you're proudest of gets slammed in workshops.
2.  The work you tossed off just before turning up is praised in workshops.
3.  You will think your work is rubbish and a waste of time, usually at around the 25,000 word mark.
4.  If you persist, writing gets easier.
5.  No one will respect your writing time unless you do.
6.  Writers are generally friendly and hugely supportive.
7.  You will never know what to say when someone asks "Have you written anything I've read?"
8.  Sometimes writing is easy, sometimes it's hard.  When you look back, you can't tell the difference in the work.
9.  There is always something else to do instead of writing.
10. If you start writing, the words will come.


Giles Diggle said...

a) I'll never quite believe it was me who wrote it.

b) There'll always be one sentence that comes back to haunt you.

c) Someone will always spot the typo & not the merits of the story.

d) I don't quite understand what compels me to do it.

e) There's so much more to learn (see d.)

Philip C James said...

There's an interesting article in an Economist magazine called INTELLIGENT LIFE about the art of 'unthinking'.

That's allowing your instincts, honed by years of experience, to take over in completing a task, rather than analysing it in too much detail.

I suspect this applies to the work you've just tossed off to satisfy a workshop deadline...

Jim Murdoch said...

When I read this post earlier this morning Philip’s comment wasn’t up but the note I made to reply is along similar lines: You're never completely in charge of the writing process. Get used to it because the other guy usually has much better ideas that you thought you had. If you trust him you’ll end up not writing the book you set out to write because there was a better one lurking in the background all the time.

@Giles – I spent a ridiculous amount of time rewriting the first sentence to my first novel. Every time I picked up the manuscript I’d reread it, add in the proverbial comma and then take it out again. When the book was finally published I dug out the very first draft just to see and the first sentence after all the fiddling I’d done was exactly the same as I’d written all those years before. Exactly. And I still don’t like it.

docstar said...

When I mention #10 (in various forms) to those complaining of writer's block, they never believe me.

womagwriter said...

This is all so true, especially number 10.

Sarah Duncan said...

Giles, agree with all yours. I feel a new list coming on!

Phil, I've read something similar about gut feeling - people who've got more experience at something are better at getting their gut feelings right. So a mother who knows her child well is often better placed to say if they're seriously sick. Not sure it applies to the workshop situation tho - think that's more like Sod's Law.

Jim, I assume by the other guy you mean your instincts rather than your conscious brain? In which case, I couldn't agree with you more. Love the sentence story...

Docstar and Womagwriter, I constantly ask students to do things I think I'd be hopeless at myself - and they always come up with brilliant work. Just goes to show, we can all do it if we sit down and do it.

Charlotte Sannazzaro said...

Following on from #10 (which is so true)... when you want to stop writing, your muse will kick into high gear (i.e. when it's time to sleep or during other essential tasks).

Susan May said...

Sarah I love your blog. Full of really great information.
For the first year of my serious writing (where I wrote every day instead of thinking about writing every day) I experienced this niggling feeling that if I could let myself go, I could really fly and write something good. It was like my creative brain was planted too much on the ground, thinking. One day, I got really angry at someone & put them in a story and just wrote off the top of my head not knowing where I was going. This was about 150,000 words in to my serious writing.
Guess what? There was that flying feeling- and in the end I felt like I hadn’t written it and it was so good.
Next story, same thing happened without the anger and now I know to just let that muse loose. I only have to turn up and sit there and get started and slowly they sneak in until I am following and not leading. It is pure wonder and I am grateful that I stuck at writing until I my brain learnt how to do it. Its not something you learn from books but from doing.

Paul Sampson said...

I suppose that if (1) and (2) were not true then this would mean that your own assessment was a reliable indicator of what will be well received. Which would itself mean that you knew what would 'sell' (in a general sense). Would that take the fun out of it?

Louise said...

Number 3 resonates with me, I tend to have a crisis of confidence around 20k words ... have to decide whether to continue or give up.

I once wrote a poem, sent it to various mags and it got rejected repeatedly. I sat down one day, hurriedly changed it, re-wrote it, threw caution to the wind in a few minutes. I think now that I turned off my inner critic. Sent that one off and it was accepted. That taught me something I think!

Myra Duffy said...

Words of wisdom,Sarah.Well worth remembering!

Sarah Duncan said...

Charlotte, as an ace procrastinator your comment rang a lot of bells with me. I faff around, and when I finally get down to writing, I've got to go off and do something else.

Susan, that's a great story.

Paul, there's an element of not seeing the wood for the trees when it comes to feedback. Sometimes as a writer you're too darn close to the work to see it clearly.

Louise, I think most of us have been there. If it's any help, when I've pushed on I've succeeded in getting to the end, and when I've given up, I've always regretted it. So now I just grit my teeth and get on with it.

Myra, thanks!