Think what you you are prepared to sacrifice. Writing a novel takes many, many hours, and those are hours you could spend planting roses, raising children, earning money – or even just having a nice life. What, in your life, is going to disappear, to allow you the time to write a book?” Louise Doughty in A Novel in a Year.
That hurts. It is also the reality about writing a novel or a non-fiction book. It takes time – lots of time. Some books can take hundreds – even thousands – of hours of research before even a single word is written. Do you have what it takes – the discipline to see it through day after day, month after month? Do you have the time away from all the other demands on your life?
For most people attempting to write a novel, something has to give. Will it be your social life? Perhaps you need to give up television, or going to parties or going to see a film. Is it the garden you will totally neglect – or the cleaning, ironing, washing and dishes? Something will need to be sacrificed.
Of course, you may not be prepared to make any sacrifices at all. You may take the easy road and only write when you have a spare hour here and another there – perhaps an hour or two a week. In that way you should be finished your masterpiece in ten or fifteen or even twenty years. The choice is yours.
I was reading a book about writing a novel* a few minutes ago. The author challenged her readers to write a simple one sentence statement: “Why do you want to write a novel?” This started a train of thoughts in my mind about the whole concept of why I am a writer – a much broader theme than that proposed by the author of that book.
Why do you want to be a writer?
I assume you are reading this blog and this post specifically because you are interested in writing. Perhaps you are looking for hints and ideas for writing – I’ve written plenty of those over the years – just go to the contents section in the sidebar. Whatever your motivation for wanting to be a writer, there are some common themes amongst would-be writers. These could include:
- Enjoyment: many people write purely because they enjoy the process of writing.
- Creativity: most writers love the creative aspects of writing, carving out poems or stories or ideas through their writing.
- Communication: there are many writers who have strong or burning opinions that they want to share with others. Communicating these ideas through their writing is very important to them.
- Money: Money? What money? Seriously though, professional writers are those who depend on getting paid for their words. Putting food on the table is a serious motivator for them.
- Fame: This is a slippery one. I do not think this is a serious reason for most people, though some might be motivated by it.
Most of the above reasons are quite valid. For me, however, there is yet another burning reason.
Because I have to write
I have to write. This is who I am. This is the way I have been created. From a very early age I have been a writer. I am a storyteller. The urge, the passion, the vision, the desire – call it what you will, but I must write. Without writing I am less of the person I am meant to be.
I must write.
*”A Novel in a Year” by Louise Doughty
- Why do I write? Another article I wrote some time ago on this theme.
“A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love. From love to matrimony. It a moment.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin.
I am writing this post in my daughter’s office. She is a avid Jane Austin devotee. The above quote she has on a bookmark pinned to her notice board in front of her desk. It started me thinking.
Now let me set the scene:
- I am not going to write about “admiration.”
- I am not going to write about “love.”
- I am not going to write about “matrimony.”
Instead, it was the part about imagination I wish to address. Imagination is very rapid. We can have great leaps of the imagination that can take us soaring with the eagles, flying through the stars or swimming with the whales.
Imagination is the stuff of writing. Without imagination, writers are in a barren land. Without imagination readers would have no reason to read. Imagination is the land of mystery, it is the mighty ocean of the mind, it is the vast expanse of infinity. And we can access our imagination in an instant.
Writers and the imagination
Now for some practical hints about using the imagination.
Writers can tap into this vast storeroom of the imagination to come up with ideas for their stories, novels and poems. Learn to draw from life and all that you come in contact with for the seeds of stories. Always be looking, looking, seeking those gems of ideas that will spring into life as a story. How do writers do this? Let me tell you some ways you can do it.
- People: We meet or see people every day. Sit in a shopping mall and observe the people you see. Choose one of them. Jot down a few ideas about the person. Use your imagination to create a character. Where do they live? Why are they here? Where are they going? What are they worried (or happy) about? Let your imagination run riot.
- Photographs: Pick up a newspaper or magazine. Choose a photo – any photo. Don’t be too fussy; any photo will do. Now let your imagination run wild. (Do not read the caption or the story it accompanies; it will narrow your imagination.) Let your imagination come up with suggestions about a story involving the scene featured in the photo. For example, a photo shows a fisherman sitting in a boat. Who is this man? What problems have driven him to seek the solitude of fishing alone? Why is he looking so anxious?
- News headlines: Skim through a newspaper. Choose one headline; don’t read the article. Let your imagination loose so that it can come up with a story idea as a response to that headline. For example, the headline is about a boy genius entering university at age twelve.Your imagination jumps to thinking you are that boy. How did you get there? What happens to you at university? How do you cope with the rejections of your peers who think you are a freak?
- Household object: Go for a walk around your home. Choose any object that grabs your imagination. Come up with a story idea revolving around the object. For example, you pick up a pair of scissors.Your imagination leaps to murder. How did this murderous weapon come into your home? How are you involved?
- Listen for sounds: On a walk you stop to listen to the sounds around you. The wind is moaning through the trees. Let you imagination take you to a land of mourning, a place of tears and much distress. Why do you feel so sad? Who or what has died, been lost, destroyed or ruined forever?
Look for writing ideas everywhere. In the ordinary things of life. In the mundane objects and experiences. In the commonplace and familiar. And then let your imagination loose.
Time for another writing prompt
Why not try writing about your best friend?
This could be a warm up exercise before getting on with your current writing project. It could also be the gem of and idea for a magazine article. It might also be used as a special letter to enclose with your card or gift when your friend next has a birthday. Whatever you choose to do. The main motivation is to practise your writing and to hone your skills.
Here are some suggestions for writing about your best friend.
- Fifteen reasons why ___________ is my best friend.
- My friend’s favourite foods.
- Thirteen things I like about _______.
- Eight activities I enjoy doing with my friend.
- Three habits of my friend that annoy me intensely.
- Four things I admire about my friend _______.
- How I first met my friend _______.
- Six bizarre facts about my friendship with ______.
- Eleven pieces of evidence that my friend is far crazier than I ever will be.
- Ten things my friend might say about me at my funeral.
Put your friend’s name in the blank spaces.
The numbers are rubbery; use whatever number you prefer because they are only suggestions.
Try the same suggestions, but with someone you cannot stand being with – or even someone you detest. (If you try this activity and write about your wife/husband/partner or significant other, do NOT leave your writing lying around – unless you want to make a less than subtle point or two, or have a death wish.)
Many people get the idea that they are going to have a go at being a writer. They get out some pens and paper, or fire up the computer and set to work. The vast majority do not get much further than that. Most people do not take the time to become a student of the craft of writing, they do not make the effort to learn how to do it.
Are you an aspiring writer? If so, you need to do your apprenticeship, learning as you go. There is no short cut method. It takes effort and time. I will ignore the Chosen Few who are so gifted and are naturals; they do not need help in developing their skills. Most of us do. If I want to play a classical piece of music on a pianoI just cannot sit down at the key board and play; I must spend many hours, days and even years learning and practising before I will be half-way good at it. So it is with writing.
Here are some ways you can learn about the craft of writing:
- Read books about writing.
- Subscribe to magazines about writing.
- Join a writers’ group.
- Join a writers’ Centre.
- Attend conventions and conferences.
- Attend seminars and workshops for writers.
- Search for suitable article on the internet.
This list is just a start. Your learning process should be a life-long.
Over the years I have read many magazines and books about writing. This morning I added two more to my library. I am looking forward to reading them. I’ll share snippets from them on this blog as I read them. The books I bought are:
- “Eats, shoots and leaves” by Lynne Truss. This has quickly become a classic in helping people grapple with punctuation.
- “A novel in a year” by Louise Doughty. I read a great review of this book on the weekend just gone and was delighted to find it in my local bookshop. (The curse of a malady called “impulse buying.”) It could also be very useful in helping me write a novel as a part of my Masters of Arts course which I start this week.
Good writing – and studying.