“It’s never too late to be what you could have been.” George Eliot
Do you want to be a writer?
I have – ever since I was eight years old. I dabbled in writing stories and poems in high school but then became sidetracked in teaching for 35 years. Teaching was always my second choice. All through my teaching career – a reasonably successful one I might add – I continued to consider myself a writer but could only devote serious time to it during holiday periods.
My writing received quite a boost when I bought my first computer in the late 1980s. All through the 1990s I built up a considerable body of writing and had limited publishing successes. I always considered that I would begin to write full time and very seriously when I retired. In part, I have succeeded in that goal. For the last six years I’ve written thousands of articles on my three blog sites. I’ve also written many short stories, poems and a novel for children.
The point of all this?
I agree with the Eliot quote above. Last month I celebrated my 63rd birthday. I’ve just completed the requirements for my Master of Arts Creative Writing degree. The novel I’ve just written will be submitted to publishers in the new year. My best writing years are still ahead of me. It is never too late.
Five years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of having a university degree. It is never too late.
Five years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of writing so much, but now I’ve written nearly two and a half million words. It is never too late.
Five years ago I could only dream of making money from my writing, but now have a steady income from my writing, especially blogging. It is never too late.
Five years ago I had very few readers but now hundred of people around the globe read my words every day. It is never too late.
Good writing: it is never too late to become a writer.
I have it on good authority that Shakespearian experts have discovered a previously unknown snippet deleted from William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
Apparently the bard originally had Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, sitting at a table with a blank sheet of drawing paper and a range of drawing pencils in front of him.
Hamlet, looking at the pencils, scratches his head and says: “2B or not 2B, that is the question.”
“Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
Mark Twain has touched on the very essence of what it is to be human. Yes, we do all have a ‘dark side’ – that part of our nature that rarely, if ever, sees the light of day. We may well be acutely aware of this flaw but most of us are clever actors able to hide this face from public view. Jesus, in his criticism of the religious leaders of his day, called them hypocrites because they appeared as white-washed tombs which look okay on outside, but are actually full of dead men’s bones on the inside.
As writers we can tap into this deep well of darkness. We can let the protagonist have a flaw which other characters know nothing about. This dark side can be either a motivator stirring his resolve, or it can be a burden, an obstacle preventing success.
This character flaw can be shown in various ways: through actions, through internal thoughts, through uncharacteristic responses to other characters, through subtle hints which other characters do not understand and so on.
Possibly one of the best known example is that of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars stories. All the way through the last three movies he battles his fear. On many occasions he is urged to give in to the dark side, to allow his fears to breed hatred.
It is certainly worth digging deep within this rich vein of conflict within the nature of your main character, exploring it and then exploiting it for all its worth.
Last year I bought a copy of the Garry Disher book called Writing Fiction: an introduction to the craft. It was the required text for the fiction writing unit in my Master of Arts course.
As I read the first chapter I underlined the following: ‘…new writers… believe that the best writing grows out of powerful feelings and intense passion.’ (Disher, 2001, p.5) While this can be true I have found that it is not always the case. Sure, intensely experienced life events can be a wonderful source of writing inspiration, but if that is all we had to write about we’d never have much to say. Most of us lead such deadly dull and boring lives that we should restrained from hoisting that on our readers.
Disher goes on to say that ‘even the most mundane incident, can give rise to a story or novel, and the best writing and creative insights often come from writing calmly and with detachment… day after day. Don’t sit and wait. Start writing, and write regularly – for the practice, and to find what it is you want to say.’ This has been another benefit of doing this and other writing units in my course; the regular enforced writing exercises and the requirement to hand up finished works.
While it is writing under intense pressure at times, I believe that it is excellent discipline for the aspiring writer. To succeed, the aspiring writer must become a perspiring writer. Over the last three years I have, in part, developed the skill of writing on demand. This was in relation to my blogging. I set myself the difficult task of writing – on average – three articles of 300 – 400 words each per day. I haven’t succeeded entirely, especially last year while studying, but I came close to it before commencing the course. I have learned to very quickly come up with ideas, plan and then write rapidly. The more I’ve done the less editing and rewriting is required, so my skills are definitely developing.
Later in the chapter he says: ‘It’s pointless to wait for inspiration… Write whether you feel like it or not.’ (Disher, 2001, p. 12-13) He suggests setting definite goals with writing, say a 1000 words per day. When I was blogging solidly over recent years I had goals for each day regarding word count, number of hours of writing, number of articles written. I also had weekly, monthly and annual goals. All that discipline has helped me during my year of study and will be of great help in coming years as a writer – especially if I ever have looming publisher deadlines.
Disher, G, 2001, Writing Fiction: an introduction to the craft. Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest.
- There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
That was a somewhat cynical view of the craft of writing. Sometimes I feel like they are not too far off the mark.
Despite that, we can but try to work out what this writing game is all about, and how to achieve with a moderate amount of success. In another life I was a classroom teacher for 35 years; near the end of that career I often said that I’d finally worked what this teaching thing is all about. I’m convinced that writing is the same; many years of practice is what it takes to discover what this writing thing is all about, and how it works.
Despite Somerset Maugham’s cynicism, there are some basic universal rules one can apply to all writing in order to improve it. An article appeared on ProBlogger a few days ago which addresses this very issue, with some commonsense rules to apply to every piece of writing to make it better – or even the best you can do. A worthy aim with all your writing after all.
You can read the article here: 5 Universal Writing Rules
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