Sunday, 17 December 2017

Writing for Beginners (37)

Be an active writer.

A lesson I learned a long time ago was that activity is the key to most things. The more you do, the more you achieve. Not that rushing around like a chicken with two heads will necessarily breed success, but neither will too much navel-gazing about the art of writing (although it does have its place). It’s rather a question of making sure the activity you undertake is (a) focussed and (b) has a point other than simply bashing away on a keyboard and hoping you get lucky. So let’s take a pause from the mechanics of putting words on paper for a few minutes, and see how activity in writing generally can help you further your aims.

First of all, let’s take it as read that you are not a one-story wonder, with a single piece in you before the muse shuts down and goes into permanent hibernation. Assume, rather, that there is a veritable torrent of ideas inside you waiting to be unleashed… if only you had the time to do it. Welcome to the club, because that’s how most writers are. It’s why so many of us carry notebooks or recorders; if we’re not actually thinking about writing, jotting down ideas or noting overheard snippets of conversation because they may be useful sometime, then it’s only because we’re hard at work trying to fashion those thoughts, ideas and notes into something coherent… and therefore saleable.

Every writing project should, ideally, have a natural time span. Whether it takes a day, week, month or years to complete doesn’t matter - it should have an end in sight somewhere, because without that idea of completion, you’ll never truly let go of it. And you need to, in order to see it through and get on with all those other ideas bursting to get out of your head. True, you can put down one project and work on something else, but in your own mind at least, you should discipline yourself to finish each job - eventually.

Once you have done this, and have got it out of the way (hopefully, heading for an editor’s desk) GET ON WITH THE NEXT ONE!

Ideally again, a useful habit to develop is of working on more than one project at a time - or at least having notes in hand about future writing plans and projects. The reason is, if you happen to run dry on one, switching to another may allow your thoughts to flow more easily. Whether short stories, non-fiction or book-length works, there should never be a point at which you don’t have a fairly solid idea of what you intend to work on next.

This on-going activity serves three main purposes: the first is that waiting for the postman is simply counter-productive and depressing; you gain an intimate knowledge of the sound of your postman’s footsteps and how much junk mail comes through your letterbox, but that’s all. The second is that even when you make a sale, it can take months to come through - months when you should be working on something else rather than letting your writing ‘muscles’ go to waste. The third is one of morale: the more work you complete, the more projects you have out there, the easier it becomes to widen and vary your writing as those ideas start to flow onto the page rather than simply sitting on a notepad or churning around inside your brain. In other words, the activity of writing truly becomes part of your everyday life, each project potentially acting as a springboard to another idea, whether for the same market or an entirely different one. This springboard effect is particularly important if an editor likes what you have done and asks to see more. There’s nothing worse than being asked for more ideas and having to admit that you hadn’t thought beyond the last writing session.

The other side - some say the routine, boring side - to being a productive writer, is actually recording what you have done and tracking its progress. Get into a discussion with other writers and you’d be surprised how many don't do this as a matter of course, or at least, treat it with casual indifference. It’s like planting seeds in the garden but forgetting where you put them and hoping they’ll pop up before the slugs get them, to remind you where they are. How would you know not to go over the same ground again two days later?

The main function of keeping a good log is not simply a matter of paper admin. Routine it may be, but it’s an important part of the activity. First, it records your output - what you have physically produced as a writer - and should include title, word count, file names, etc. Second, it shows where you have sent your work, thus displaying the range of your target market and avoiding the embarrassment of sending the same work twice to the same editor (not a good idea if you want to be taken seriously). Third, reviewing your log on a regular basis will get you into the right frame of mind and motivate you to send out more work or re-write the material that didn't work first time round. Remember: what doesn’t press one editor’s buttons may well be just what the next one is looking for.


·        Set yourself deadlines to research and write your current work.
·        If not actively writing, at least be thinking about it.
·        When nearing completion of one project, start planning the next.
·        Log your submissions for motivation.

This article was taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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