It’s been a while since I wrote a post on the art and craft of writing. In fact, I’m not certain I’ve ever written such a post, and it’s been on my mind lately, especially after Can-Con last month – which, by the way, was awesome. I recommend attending this well-run, literary-focused convention if you can make it to Ottawa in October of any year.
So. There are a gazillion books and articles out there offering writing advice. I’m just listing a few things that have worked for me. Some of it might be of use to others, and some of it won’t. Everyone is different! This is not meant to be prescriptive by any means. In fact, my first piece of advice is to run from any advice that claims to be the one true way to do things, to guarantee you success of any sort.
There are no guarantees of success. There aren’t even any guarantees that you will manage to finish a single story to your satisfaction. Or that you will sell it. Or, having sold it, whether you can repeat the feat. It’s good to have goals, but not if you beat yourself up over them. If, however, like me, your goal is to write and eventually publish, here’s my two cents:
- Read. Read as much and as widely as you have the time and inclination for. Read in your preferred genre/audience, and outside it. Read the lesser known works, the award-nominated works, the bestsellers, whatever takes your fancy. The more you read, the better your intuitive grasp of language and story and plot and character, what’s over-done and what’s missing. Besides, it’s fun!
- You may not be able to write every day, and that’s okay. We’re human, not machines. Life stuff gets in the way. But if you average a mere 100 words a day, you’ll have a 36k novella at the end of one year. Or 5-10 stories. Isn’t that amazing? 100 words is totally doable! Of course, knowing which words is the tricky part and I am often stumped too.
- Finish at least one story that you started writing, and get feedback on it. If you have a writing group, great! Otherwise, there are online critique groups you can join like Critters. Critiquing other people’s stories will help you write better too.
- Try to attend a spec-fic convention. This is much easier if you live in a major city, of course, because most major cities have their own conventions. Not everyone can afford the time and money to travel. But if you can possibly attend the one nearest to you, it will be well worth your while. Conventions are great places to meet like-minded people, attend interesting panels, and listen to agents, editors, and other writers talk about the craft of writing and the markets for both short and long fiction. I met two of my writing group members at a convention – something I will always be grateful for.
- Writing the other – this is a question I have seen come up often and it’s worth addressing. We live in a diverse world, and it makes sense for the world of our books to be populated by diverse characters. By all means, write people of a different ethnicity, orientation, and identity from yourself. But please avoid attempting to write the lived experience of their difference for them. That is not your life to live or your story to tell. And also – this is very important – do the research. Read books written by authors of the background you wish to write.
- Be kind to yourself. I don’t believe great art requires great suffering, mental or physical. This is a myth – a damaging one. Take care of yourself. The words will come, sooner or later.
Before I close, the title of my post is the actually the title of a poem by Dylan Thomas. The poet talks about how he writes for the sake of his craft rather than for any material gain. But note, he does not talk of suffering! For him, the real reward is in the act of writing itself. And if one has this sense of reward, than all external validation is just icing on the cake.