Sunday, 22 May 2016

Writing for Beginners (18)

You can’t be a beginner for ever

(Taken from the chapter 'You as a Writer' in 'Write On! - the writer's help book' )

There will come a time when, having written some pieces, maybe sold a few, you might begin to wonder about the next step in this thing called being a writer.
 
One approach is to think about cutting loose – mentally, at least – from the ‘beginner’ label and start thinking of yourself in a slightly different light.


If, after having completed some projects (submitted or not), of entering competitions, of taking writing classes, of slaving over endless manuscripts - or even just a few - you still think of yourself as a beginner, perhaps you need to grasp the nettle and recognise that you are, in fact, a writer.
 
Imagine for example, finding yourself half a mile out at sea and going down for the third time. A lifeguard comes bobbing along just in time, but in response to your gurgles, he chirps, ‘Me? I’m just a trainee …’
 
There’s a hoary old saying often trotted out more in judgemental anger than true wisdom, and usually bellowed with biting self-conviction by an enraged parent, which goes, ‘Life is not a dress-rehearsal, you know …!’
 
Actually, I think life is a whole series, a multitude of dress-rehearsals, where each day is a practice session for the next, each phase of our life a preparation for what lies ahead. The daft thing is, we don’t realise it at the time.
 
In the same way, writing and submitting a story is all practice. Every time. And each work written and submitted, no matter what the outcome, should be treated as a step nearer success. Because whatever else you need in your toolbox to become a published writer, be it ideas, style, voice, stamina or dedication, you need the big-daddy power tool of inner conviction. Without that, you’re simply running uphill.
 
And to grasp that contrived sporting analogy before it slithers between the floorboards and disappears forever, there are gazillions of runners out there who train daily, weekly or less frequently, for the race they will one day enter. They wear the kit, check the stopwatch, use the correct footwear and clothes and monitor what they eat and drink.
 
But most of all, they run.
 
And for a few, training is all they will ever do. Because that’s all they need; the self-knowledge that is fed by doing something for the pure, unbridled pleasure of it, not for any tangible adulation or reward.
 
For others, putting themselves to the ultimate test is a step too far, where the possibility of failure is something they simply cannot contemplate. They may have the talent; they will certainly possess the intent and ability, the sheer will to overcome the many obstacles such as discomfort, lack of time or opportunity – even the call of family or work to do other things instead. But deep down, they still think of themselves as ‘training’, where shaving off a second or a minute here and there will make all the difference, where just a few more runs will extend their stamina and allow them to compete on terms with the rest of the field. One day.
 
They may be right. But there’s only one true test of ability, and it’s the same in writing as it is in sports. You have to step up to the line.
 
Instead of thinking of failure, consider how you will deal with success. How will you capitalise on your first (or next) sale? Will you go bigger and better or will you find your niche and enjoy it to the full? Ask many sports men and women, and they will usually tell you the same thing: coming second is simply not enough.
 
But at least in sports, there are three places on the podium to aim for. For writers, there is just one: an acceptance letter.
 
Equally, ask many keen sports men and women if they constantly try to improve their own times, and the answer will be yes. Shaving off those seconds or minutes is vital, and a reason to celebrate. It may not be a win, but it’s a measure of improvement – and a step towards a greater goal.
 
For most, it’s an inner drive which they respond to, something peculiar to each individual. So it is with writers, who see success in many different ways. But most would agree that receiving an acceptance note is a marvellous acknowledgement that they have finally produced something of value which is going to be published for all to see.
 
We’re learning all the time. It’s another fascinating aspect of life; that learning never stops. But there’s a point at which you have to put that learning to good use, rather than simply doing more of the same. And one way to do that is to think of yourself as a writer. Not merely a beginner.
 
TOP TIPS
  • Don’t think of your writing as a step in your training, but as a step towards success.
  • Consider your strengths as a writer and use them.If you write, you’re a writer.
  • The rest is simply a matter of progress.Every writer is a beginner at some stage.
  • YOU must decide when you are no longer there.
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'Write On! - the writer's help book' (Accent Press) - on Kindle and in paperback.

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