If you want to be a writer …
You'll be given lots of advice
Be it children’s stories, literary fiction, web copy, poetry, newsletters, plays, picture books … whatever. There’s a myriad of self-styled experts out there – both on and off-line. Very well-meaning. And just busting to tell you just how to go about it!
The first thing they’ll tell you is to Find Your Own Voice.
I’ve got no argument with this. Unless you happen to be writing something very dry and non-fictional, of course you have to find your own voice.
(Wherever it may be hiding … ) )
But these so-called experts also tend to lay down the law on your writing habits. They’ll say you should start off by letting your wonderfully creative impulses off the leash. Go crazy! Just tap and tap – or scribble and scribble – until you can tap or scribble no more.
And then go back afterwards and try and make sense of it all!
This approach obviously works for some – my friend Maggie Mackellar, for example – author of the highly acclaimed and best-selling memoir When it Rains. Having at last Got Down to writing her first novel, she has set herself the herculean task of writing a thousand words a day. She rises at 4.30 while the kids are asleep, and … Just Does It. Every day.
Just imagine – one thousand words! Every day of the week!!
And she maintains she never once looks back at what she’s written – not even a peek! She’s just keepin’ on keepin’ on – right till she’s finished a whole draft.
To me, arch procrastinator, this is simply mind-boggling! Before I finally get down to it, I’ll hang out the washing, answer the phone (can’t resist), play with the puppy, cut my toenails – anything but face the blank screen!
Sure, if I have a deadline, I’ll meet it. And I guess my dithering applies more to my fiction, rather than to copywriting. (Never fear, dear prospective client, I can produce great copy in a flash!!) But at the same time I’m pulling out thistles, feeding them to the horses, dead-heading the roses etc etc, I’m mentally wafting around my current writing project, gazing at it from different angles …
Someone – some expert – once sniffily told me that even the way I write is a form of procrastination. I’ll tap away for an hour or two, then go back and savagely edit, chopping and polishing my new chunk. And every morning when I turn on the computer, I can’t help myself. Like a broken nail or a ragged cuticle, I’ll fiddle with it all over again!
That expert was probably right – this probably is another form of delaying tactics! However, even though my word count might grow at a snail’s pace, when I come to the end of the first draft, the project is about 80% finished. (Before it goes to off the publisher, anyway – then it’s another story.) Whereas Maggie’s first draft is just that – very rough. She’ll probably need at least two, three or even more complete re-writings before she’s happy.
Each to their own!
I probably owe my career as an author to the brilliant novelist and essayist Helen Garner. Not that I would ever, ever, compare myself to her! But years ago, when I was making my first, faint-hearted attempts at kids’ fiction, I read an interview with her in which she said she worked the same way I work. First thing, she always looked at her previous day’s writing – before deleting about three quarters of it in disgust!
If it was good enough for Helen Garner, it was good enough for me! It made me appreciate that just occasionally there were a few gems in the dross I’d produced! It was a matter of picking them out, displaying them properly, then plodding on again.
And anyway, Maggie and I (and, of course, H Garner!) are well and truly published, which is more than I can say for some of the experts!
So now I’m turning into an expert – just for a second!
My advice, when it comes to your own writing?
You’re different to everyone other writer, so do what suits you!