Six Rules for Writers

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday [English] equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

George Orwell

 

  1. Learn the rules.
  2. Learn the craft.
  3. Break the rules and develop your own style.

A bit of a learning curve!

I came across this on Twitter: For most authors writing and finding your style has a bit of a learning curve. Writing today helps your writing tomorrow. [To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.] @WrtrStat

I read as far as ‘finding your style has a bit of a learning curve’ before my exclamation: A BIT OF A LEARNING CURVE! It took me years to develop my own style; I always had an idea of what I wanted to write but finding my own voice was a huge learning curve. What I wanted to write in the early days was probably cross-genre; never going to be easy. My favourite author was Ruth Rendell and her explorations of the misfits, the unbalanced and the downright mad. But, and here was my conundrum, I love historical novels and that sense of being transported into another time and place where life was very different. Yet even though people in medieval times thought differently, had different morals, laws, societal expectations and religious constraints, human emotions were the same. We all feel anger, betrayal, love, lust, hate, jealousy and the mad were still misfits.

In teaching myself to write, I found my style. And I realised, for me, I had to find historical characters, a place, a time and events to pin my imagination upon and to create fiction around, fiction that, as far as I was concerned, was going to be about the mad, the unbalanced, the misfits.

The Right Word

To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself. Anybody can have ideas; the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.

Mark Twain

Rejection

Rejection. What a horrible word! Rhymes with failure (doesn’t actually but you know what I mean).

You’ve finally finished your novel, you’ve edited it, proofread and polished it. You’ve spent as much time writing a synopsis as you did actually writing it. You’ve perfected your cover email, researched your target literary agents and publishers and now you’re ready to hit them with your magnificent opus. And the rejection email comes winging back. (Not for us. Unsuitable for our lists. Better luck elsewhere. The market is extremely competitive. We liked your work but… ) Gutted.

So what do you do? Cry your eyes out? Crawl under the duvet and stay there for days? Delete the manuscript? Swear you’ll never write another word? Take it as a huge personal insult? Swear vengeance?

No! You shout ‘Next!’ And send it out again. Never ever give up.

Do you know the story of Marlon James, Booker Prize Winner 2015 for A Brief History of Seven Killings, who wrote off his own writing career after receiving 78 rejections? His last rejection said, ‘Not for us.’ He deleted his manuscript, destroyed his computer and then made all his friends dispose of their copies. One of them didn’t. On winning the Booker Prize 2015, he said, ‘If you’re a writer, you have to believe in yourself. Because if you’re a writer, you’re going to come across that moment where you’re the only one who does.’ I love this; he had the humility and the courage, not only to say how many rejections he had had before finally being published, but to then give such encouragement and hope to other struggling writers.

So what are you going to do next time you receive a rejection?

If it is your destiny…

If it is your destiny to be this labourer called a writer, you know that you’ve got to go to work every day. But you also know that you’re not going to get it every day. You’ve got to be prepared, but you don’t really command the enterprise.

Leonard Cohen

A Day Job

Writers need a day job. According to a survey of almost 2,500 working writers the median income of the professional author in 2013 was just £11,000, a drop of 29% since 2005 when the figure was £15,450. The typical median income of all writers was even less: £4,000 in 2013, compared to £5,012 in 2005 (The Guardian). So unless you’re lucky enough to make a really good living from your writing – cue JK Rowling – you need a day job.

For me, finding the right day job was a calculated decision; I downsized my career. I had arrived at a place I didn’t want to be, so I stepped off the career train. This sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It wasn’t. I remember thinking, Is this the most stupid thing I’ve ever done? But I still did it: I walked into the unknown. It took a long time to find the right part-time day job; and then settling in at the bottom of an organisation, even though it is a college of art and design was, shall we say, trying. Setting about establishing my proofreading and copy-editing business and getting it off the ground was easier.

Most people don’t follow their dreams. ‘They settle for the ordinary, as if they’re afraid of potential greatness inside them. Following your dream can be lonely, as it sets you apart from others. Just because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t make it easy.’ (Robert Rowland Smith)

 

 

Displacement or Writer’s Block?

Displacement is defined as ‘an unnecessary activity that you do because you are trying to delay doing a more difficult activity’, whereas writer’s block is a ‘condition in which you lose the ability to produce new work, or experience a creative slowdown’. I’m very good at displacement, not so good at writer’s block.

For me, displacement is a means of getting into the zone, a series of rituals that lead me into the world I’ve created; taking the dog out, closing all those irritating chores and admin tasks down in order to clear the decks. Or it can simply be a means of wasting time. You’d be surprised at how much time I can waste, or maybe you’re not? However, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes the only way is to walk away for the day because the writing is just not happening.

Displacement can be a way of ordering my thoughts, thinking about where I left off, collating all the light-bulb moment notes I’ve scribbled – the flashes of inspiration when an idea strikes, often at the strangest of times, and a twist in the plot or character’s motivation is resolved. And then there’s the organising of my immediate writing environment; putting away what I don’t need, making sure I’ve got what I do need to refer to is close by. This could also be called “knolling”, ‘the process of arranging related objects as a method of organization’ and, for me, it’s an aspect of the discipline of writing.

I never really believed in writer’s block until it happened. I was juggling too many things, over-tired, this needed doing, that needed doing. As the weeks went by and then months, a year, I convinced myself that I’d made a conscious decision to have a break from writing. There was absolutely no space in my head and whatever rituals I did, I just couldn’t get into the zone. But then I thought, it will come back, there will be space in my head again. Nothing ever stays the same, everything changes. Apparently under stress the human brain shifts control to the instinctive processes, the fight or flight response, and this hinders the creative processes.

How to begin…

How does one begin a blog? By beginning is the obvious answer. I feel ridiculously anxious about this; writing a blog ought to be relatively easy for a writer!

What is a blog anyway? A quick google search tells me ‘a blog is a regularly updated website written in an informal style’. Not much to go on for a newbie.

So, perhaps a diary, much like I wrote as a teenager? Informative, detailing my life as a writer and the struggle for publication? A ranting venue for my inner most thoughts? To create space in my head? A personal creative outlet? Structuring my thoughts so I don’t go completely mad? Something to do as a displacement activity? A release from writer’s block? This could go on forever! I suspect, for me, a blog is a combination of them all, and I have begun.

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