Here I discuss how doubts and fears of many kinds, can be major road blocks to your ability, your achievements – and your sanity!
This is very much a ‘bullet point/bumper-sticker blog’. Why? Because each heading could be – and perhaps should be – a blog in its own right. Maybe one day, some will be.
GIVING YOURSELF PERMISSION:
“To be, or not to be” … a writer.
It’s one thing putting a good letter together or a half-decent presentation, but to be a serious writer, be that of short stories or mammoth sagas, you need the right tools to help you on your way. The first is giving yourself permission, the second, is to be bold and commit to the label and the process.
WHAT’S GETTING IN YOUR WAY? (The Enemies within):
A question to which you need an honest answer and to finally resolve.
Self Doubt: This has been one of my own downfalls for many years, in fact most of my life. I knew I had a way with words, I knew I had a reasonably vivid imagination, but that was it. For the longest time, I held the cockeyed view that real writers were somehow bigger, better than me. They were intellectuals, they had studied the art for years in college or even university. They were avid readers too and could rhyme off a whole string of authors they admired and quote passages from their work ad-nauseam. Well, I’m here to tell you, that just ain’t necessarily true!
Yes, some – if not many – are, but that doesn’t make them great writers. I believe that particular gift cannot be learned, it can only be enhanced. It has to be in your blood.
Education: This, the second of my own self-doubts.
I was born and raised in Manchester, England. I began school around five years of age and remember being taught the alphabet and the various sounds that each symbol made available to my pencil via those twenty-six magical letters of the alphabet.
What I didn’t know back then was that I was part of a ‘Phonetic Spelling Experiment’ where we little ones were not taught formal spelling rules in our early years. It was thought that maybe harassing a youngster about the way they ‘should’ spell words, would dampen their expressiveness and therefore their creativity. This, they believed, because a child may avoid using some words if he/she feared the consequences of ‘getting it wrong’. After all, there would be plenty of time to learning spelling later – right?
The result, in my case? I’m now in my seventies, I must have written a billion words for sure, I care about getting things right – but I still can’t spell! Oh, I’m not atrocious (funny: auto-correct caught that one!) but some words still trip me up to this day:
Why one P in apology when there are two in the like of apple and apply.
…ance/…ent vs. …ence/…ant. (Difference – Important, etc.)
Just think of the ‘base word’ some say, ‘the clues are there.’ NO! Why then Speak /Speech.
And now that I’ve moved to The States, O-M-G!! Suddenly, colour, neighbour, flavour, travelling, (car) tyres – on and on – all wrong – I’m doomed! But hey, somewhere in there I wrote a 700-page novel that’s getting great reviews:
- “Beautifully written.“ —Magic City Morning Star”, New York
- “Impressively written … an exceptionally gifted novelist.” —Midwest Book Review
- “One of a kind. Brilliantly written.” —Rose M.Z. (Amazon reviewer)
- “Beautifully written.” —Joanie (Amazon reviewer)
- “… well written.” —JK (Amazon reviewer)
- “… such a beautifully written book” —(Amazon reviewer)
These examples were amongst the first twenty-five reviews I received. This seems to show: firstly, that a high percentage of reviewers seem equally compelled to express their love for the writing style as they did for the story itself. All are 5-Star reviews by the way, so I assume the story had to have had some appeal too!
Secondly, please believe a formal education is not everything in writing. Some would argue it even holds folks back. The need to ‘get it right’ can stifle creativity in a way that mine was not. Does this mean that the phonetic experiment worked? Well … it didn’t survive, but you be the judge.
Believe me, I’m not saying I’m better or worse that an ‘educated’ writer, just that such education, though useful I’m sure, is not the be-all and end-all. My best advice if you do have the privilege (auto-corrected again!) of a higher education, is to remember, it’s a tool, not a hard-and-fast rule and if you don’t have a formal education in writing – don’t let that be your excuse not to write.
DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?:
This is a serious question – and I don’t mean ‘what it takes’ academically or financially …
I mean: DO YOU HAVE THE GUTS!
Determination : Perseverance : Passion : Persistence – I could go on, but I’ll spare you.
One of the best business philosophies I ever adopted during my career was, “Hire for attitude, train for skill.” Well, as a writer, It would behoove you to look in the mirror on this one – if you have the right attitude (natural flair and fortitude), you can learn the skill.
Habit: Utterly essential – You have to make a good habit of writing.
Time: Oh, time! You tell yourself so often … “I don’t have the time” … “I don’t have enough time.” … “I wish I had the time.” If only I was given the time.” Not good enough! You may as well stop reading this blog now, if you aren’t prepared to make time. Writing, like any other discipline that anyone wants to excel at, means sacrifice, and time needs to be high on that list.
THE ENEMY WITHOUT …
Here are just two Time Thieves: (You’ll have your own to add …)
Television: Just how many re-runs do you really need to watch? Isn’t one news broadcast a day enough – maybe too much some days. Learn to notice quickly when it’s a slow news day. Get up and go away when they start rehashing yesterday’s news, or get into what I call ‘magazine territory’ – pop news and the like.
Social Media: As a writer, social media has its place, but does the world really need more of the mundane? OK someone just put a smile on your face and you want to acknowledge that … or you (hope) you just put a smile on someone else face – or you needed to vent you anger – whatever – is it really moving you forward, or are you just playing some game based on either your own need of validation or the wish to cosset someone else’s? Keep it short!
Remember: Writing is 3% talent, 97% avoiding distractions.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR PURPOSE:
OK … you’ve passed the litmus test for passion and determination. The next key to forward movement is perhaps having a clear understanding of your purpose.
Who are you writing for? This one should be simple, but it’s important because understanding your purpose offers clarity to your goal. If your intention is to write for your own enjoyment or simply for friends and family, make yourself comfortable with that and let it be.
Writing for those in need: If it’s your intention to write with the thought of helping others to navigate a path you have trodden yourself, then you’ll know early on, not just to write, but to begin research both to increase your own knowledge of your subject and to investigate just where you will ‘fit’ in what I believe to be the number one best selling genre in book sales – ‘Self Help’.
Writing to entertain: Fiction, comedy, history, biographies, sci-fi, young adult, you name it. I’m not much of a fan of locking yourself into a genre early on – or ever in some cases, but knowing your comfort zone can be useful, especially early on – but then what’s wrong with a little experimentation? No one’s going to see it but you, unless the results are unexpectedly explosive. My novel,’White Ashes’ is (roughly speaking) suspense / Romance, though some reviewers have argued otherwise. The prequel I’m working on now is beginning to feel more like a suspense/thriller/drama (we’ll see!) but I do have the beginnings of a sci-fi novel on the back burner that several trusted early readers seem very keen for me to get finished.
THE ‘HOW’ – To Write:
Number 1: Learn by example. I was late to learn this one, but I get it now and I’m one hundred percent behind it: READ – A LOT.
Number 2: I’m all in on this one too: WRITE – A LOT … also …
‘Write what you like’, it’s sound advice, but, certainly in fiction, ‘with a twist’ where you can.
‘Write what you know,’ is ultra-common advise in the world of writing tutorials, but again, don’t lock yourself in. Fine, if you’re a heating engineer that loves horror movies, write about some air conditioning guy who’s life is rolling along nicely until he pokes around chasing a wiring fault and finds a human head in the attic – that’s bad enough, but when the owner of the house turns up behind him – Ooooww!
Research: ‘Write what you know’ can also mean ‘know’ by doing your research. Finding out about things you knew nothing of can actually be both interesting and even exciting sometimes – but be very careful not to include too much of your new-found (or your well-known) knowledge in your writing – just knowing it comes through in the confidence that you write with, even when the references are quite scant – what you write, shows you know, but what you may inadvertently leave out or get wrong because you didn’t know it can lead to a credibility gap. It’s a question of balance – remember, you’re writing a novel not an instruction book.
THE ILLUSION OF PERFECTION:
Do you really need telling that perfection is an illusion – so much so that it would have been easy for me to place the need for perfection amidst the list of things that can/will hold you back if you let it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating shoddy work here, editing and polishing your work is crucial – but there has to come a moment when you let it go.
“SUCCESS” – whatever that means.
Firstly, judging success by financial reward is a highly flawed premise upon which to judge your writing achievements.
It’s too easy to imagine success as gaining a quarter-million dollar contract, but in reality, success for many writers, certainly in the early days, is breaking even on their investment in pencils, pens, paper and printing – Seriously!
To quote Dan Brown, (The Da Vinci Code) “The process has to be the reward.” If this cannot be true for you, then I would humbly suggest, writing is not for you. Dan also said, “It takes time to build a readership.” … and you should take that to the bank, while you’re waiting for that fortune to roll in.
“FAILURE” – Whatever that means!
Here’s one I dreamt up and pasted on the wall of my office many moons ago. I had been irritated, once again, at getting something wrong, and that’s when the thought came to me:
“I’ve just realised why I make so many mistakes …
It’s because I’m always doing something!”
—john D Moulton
And so I learned to be kind to my mistakes and I’d encourage you to do the same. Keep busy, course correction is always an option, even if that means the like of trashing a chapter or three upon realising the whole thing was being written from the wrong point of view!
It’s OK to feel like you’re failing – it means you’re working, it means you’re writing and you’re on your way to getting it right!
If it was easy, we’d all be writers … Right?
As Hemingway implied, with his oft-quoted, no doubt sarcastic, comment: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at your typewriter and bleed.” I believe when Hemingway bled, the blood he lost was lost in words he either couldn’t find or felt compelled to reject. It’s supposed to be tough, which is why I talked above about GUTS!
Such ‘failures’ are a necessary part of success. Getting it right doesn’t just happen; you have to work for it. There’s another quote I love, that has been attributed to several ‘greats’ over the years, so I’ll resist the attribute (usually a golfer) and just offer the benefit of the words. I believe the quote came in answer to the question, “How much of your success do you put down to luck?” The answer: “Funny, I find the more I practice, the luckier I get.”
Practice means failing – over and over again. Failures often bring with them little lights at the end of those tunnels as you work toward your goal, sometimes one torturous word at a time.
BUILDING YOUR CONFIDENCE (with humility):
So, take a deep breath, accept you’re not perfect – nobody is. Get organised with some space to write, preferable a small uncluttered room with a door you can shut. Then … give yourself permission and the precious gift of time. Start with an hour a day, even if that means getting out of bed that hour earlier. Work toward making that one hour three – even if it takes a year to get there. Either kill your fears or embrace them. My ol’ mum used to say, “You’re no good unless you’re nervous, son.” Arrogance was a trait she was determined I would never be tempted to adopt – and she was right.
GETTING IT DONE:
You can read all the courses you like, you can tell yourself you’re not quite ready, but in the end, you have to do the work, you have to see it through, you have to bring your efforts to a conclusion, then edit, redraft, and edit again before you then finally begin the process of putting it under the noses of those who can make a difference – to take your writing from dream to reality.
WRITE – FINISH – SEND IT OUT … and when it comes back, as it often will, send it out again … and again … and again! James Patterson’s first novel was turned down by 34 different publishers, before winning an award as ‘USA No:1 Best First Novel’. “What if I had given up on the fifth rejection?” he asks.
Every professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quiet.”
Determination : Perseverance : Passion : Persistence – GUTS!
SO – IS IT ALL WORTH IT?
I doubt you would have read this far into this blog without a fairly serious commitment to either beginning or continuing the process of being a writer. There’s no doubt, there will be pain along the way, but there is also great joy and satisfaction both during the process and at the final completion of your work. It’s waiting for you there, if you’re brave enough to buckle up and take the ride.
Good luck with all you write.