Thursday, 5 April 2018

Writing is a Life Long Sentence

 1. Read Like it's Going Out of Fashion


You've heard it a million times before. You can't love writing without first loving to read. Read a lot. Read everything. Analyse writing and writers. Study what works, what doesn't, wonder why and learn from it.

Realize too that the published writing you see has probably been worked and reworked over and over to appear effortless. Don't assume professional writers get it down perfect every time. They don't. Their work has been analyzed, edited and beaten into shape by themselves and other editors.

2. Study Your Own Writing

Study every word, every sentence, every phrase. Are you maximizing the effect of your words? Could you say the same thing a different way?

Don't just blindly accept your words as perfect. Professionals know there is always another way of stating something, setting a scene, explaining an emotion. Too many novice writers fall in love with their words, refusing to accept there might be a better way to get to what is true.

3. Learn to Love Criticism

When we start out, criticism hurts - big time. We've bared our soul. We've agonized over our words and are proud of what we've said. Off-hand comments about our work can feel like a body slam, even an attack on our capabilities, our character, our integrity.

But that's not what is going on. People love to criticize - it's human nature. Even the best writers are criticized. The point is to learn from criticism and rise above it. Listen to what is being said, make changes if necessary but do it for yourself. You are the final arbiter - but don't be blind or sulky about it. Take it on board.

4. Read Aloud to Others

Reading out loud can highlight the strengths and weaknesses in your writing. Especially in the areas of rhythm, wordiness, and dialogue. It's a great test.

Read to friends and family, yes, but also read to other writers. Let them make comments. Enjoy the process.

Try this. Read a short piece to a group of friends/writers. Make note of how your writing sounds to them. Listen to suggestions. Make changes, read it aloud again. Keep doing this until everyone involved thinks the writing - every word, every phrase - is perfect.

5. Try Different Styles

It's too easy to get stuck in one area of expertise. If you're a fiction buff, try writing magazine articles or screenplays. If you're a journalist, try free-form fiction. If you're a literary type, try writing advertising copy. Don't limit yourself. All types of writing are good in their own way and experimenting with them can teach you little tricks that help you become a more mature, fully rounded writer.

Novice writers tend to think they shouldn't experiment, that somehow it might taint their art. Nothing could be further from the truth.

6. Take Courses, Read More Books on Writing

The process of being taught, of exposing yourself to the ideas of others, cannot be underestimated. Even if you disagree with what is being said, it all helps stretch you and give you a deeper understanding of what is good and right for your writing.

When you take lessons in writing, study hard, do the exercises, listen to the feedback, act on it and write some more. Your writing will improve the more you do it. Don't sit and fret over your writing. Just do it.

7. Seek Out Good Advice

I quite often hear novice writers complain that they're learning nothing new about writing from the various authorities they consult. They sound disillusioned, as if there's more pertinent information out there if only they could find it.

Odd. considering I've never met a seasoned writer didn't love to debate the absolute basics of word-play, grammar, sentence structure and all the other little things that novices seem to grow weary of hearing.

Remember. You can never hear good advice too many times.

8. Give Back

Share your knowledge. Teach what you have learned about writing to others. Too often novice writers can feel there's some sort of clique of professionals who don't want to talk to them or associate with them.

We writers, whatever our abilities, must learn to see ourselves as a community with similar aims - to actively enhance all our writing - to raise the bar and to act for the betterment of all writers.

9. Constantly Want More From Yourself

Stretch yourself continuously. Find new ways of expressing yourself.

Writing is sometimes a strange past-time. A writing project that begins like an adventure can quickly become an obsession that ends up feeling like some self-inflicted curse!

But all writing experience is good, whether it's fun or not. Not all of your writing is going to be fun and fulfilling. Some of it may be a hard slog or a nuisance. This is okay.

If you want to succeed in writing, it should become your life, your passion, even your reason to be. It's a fine and noble way of life. If you want it, embrace it, and your writing will benefit enormously. Go for it!

Best of luck and - whatever you do - keep writing.


© Rob Parnell

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Hydra Syndrome

Have you ever noticed how you, as a writer, see-saw? For one heady moment you know you're brilliant and then, later, with just as much clarity, you know what you do is awful. It's the writer's curse.
I've noticed this happens at certain times in the writing process.

When the ideas are fresh and you're starting out on a project, the adrenaline is flowing, the words are spewing on to the page - everything seems so clear, so clever, so you.

And then after, when you look back, the words seem dull, the structure contrived and the talent - well, non-existent. But then... later, it can seem smooth and inspired again... and then, even later... dire.

Hold up! What's happening here?

I call it The Hydra Syndrome or, for short, THS.

You may remember that the Hydra was a mythological creature with many heads - and each time one was cut off, another sprouted in its place.

And the trouble with being a writer is that we too have many heads. Some are kind and benevolent, some are harsh and critical. And it doesn't matter how often we try to quash one head's opinion of what we do, there's always another that will have the alternate point of view.

It depends on our moods I think. When we're happy and confident, our words seem to fire all the right neurons on the brain, the synaptic gaps are bridged with ease. There's more than just the words in our writing - there's a whole world of meaning implicit.

But then sometimes when we're tired and listless, our brains are foggy and the words seem empty, unable to quite convey the richness we wanted to invoke.

At other times, we feel nothing. We see the words for what they are - just words: pale shadows of reality with no depth, no power, no meaning.

Whenever I'm suffering from a bout of THS, I have to remind myself that, when reading through a different head, I thought my writing was fine. But then I think, am I deluding myself? Maybe the bad head that hates my writing is the true head? Maybe the happy head is a liar and is secretly chuckling behind my back... oh, the woes of writing!

The other day was a good example.

I'd just finished editing (for about the twentieth time) the first 9500 words of my new novel, intending it for submission. I was pretty darn proud of what I'd done. As well as the words being perfect (or so I thought) there seemed also a profound depth of hidden meaning, subtle interconnectivity and the odd clever nuance that would have my readers in awe, enrapt... and yet...

I gave it to Robyn, my partner, to read. As she did so, I waited, butterflies threatening to burst out of my stomach like the alien in, um, Alien.

At least she read the whole thing in one sitting. I was dreading that she'd put it down and say, "I'll read the rest tomorrow." That would have hurt. Big time.

Anyway. At the end she said, "Yeah, it's excellent." But, of course, because she didn't say it's brilliant, I was disappointed.

"What's wrong with it?" I cried.

"Nothing. It's really good." Really good? What's that supposed to mean? She must hate it!

Tentatively, I ask, "Anything that might need fixing?"

"Well, there's a couple of typos." Typos! Gah - after twenty passes! How could that be? "Nothing major," she added.

"And?"

"Well..." Here it comes, I thought. "You've got a couple of point of view issues. You tell the story from one guy's point of view in one chapter and I think you should do it from the hero's."

I slumped. Reality check. Thanks, Robyn.

She was right of course. I have to go back and fix it. But now I'm thinking my 9500 words are heavily flawed, and will remain so, until I've dealt with the problem. Now I wouldn't show my submission to another soul because it's dreadful, awful, until I've rewritten at least two large chunks of it. But then, maybe then, it will be perfect! Yay!

And to think, I used to wonder why my mother thought that writing was a silly way to make a living. Maybe she was right. I can find at least one of my Hydra heads that would rush to agree with her.

But I think the real point is that we need to be critical of our writing - at least some of the time. If we thought that what we did was always brilliant, we'd lose objectivity and we wouldn't want to improve, wouldn't know how to improve even.

Being hard on our writing sometimes is what makes us better writers.

But at those other, special times, loving what we do is what keeps us doing it!

Keep writing!

© Rob Parnell
The Writing Academy