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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Writing – what’s easy and hard to write?

Today, I popped in to the local Writers’ Circle. The chairman Ian had set a writing exercise, asking each of the fourteen attendees to write what they found hard and easy to write about.

This is a complex question.

For those who don’t write poetry, this was certainly found to be hard to tackle – whether rhyming or not. 

That’s the idea!
Getting the idea was often elusive for the writer. That’s difficult to resolve. You have to have an inquisitive mind that is always asking ‘what if?’ A word, phrase or event can trigger an idea. If you can’t waylay ideas to generate in your writing, then you’re probably not destined to be a writer.

Muse, where art thou?
Wait for the muse? It can work, but it can also take a long time. As one famous author put it, ‘I wait for the muse each day. It arrives at 9am when I sit at my desk.’ In other words, he enforces discipline in his writing because he sees it as a job.

Oh, the pressure!
A few found they could write better when under some time constraint. That’s what journalists find – they have to deliver to a deadline. That deadline won’t shift. It has to be met. Writing to a self-imposed deadline can help you to train yourself to write regularly.

Excuses, excuses!
Then there was the question of motivation. How to get into a writerly mode. The basic answer is to sit down and write. Of course writers are very good at procrastinating. Anything rather than actually write; there are umpteen excuses. See a reference to this in my Friday’s forgotten book blog here.

Even for writers who find it easy to write, it still requires effort. That is allocating time to write, ensuring that you do write, spilling words onto the page or screen.

Point of view
Deciding on a point of view for the story can prove difficult for some. Determining this will affect the story. If it’s first person, then the narrator (presumably) survives any threat, so the danger must be faced by others possibly close to the narrator.

Voice over
Attaining a ‘voice’ for the story proves difficult for others. ‘Know your character’ can help here. Immersing yourself in the story with your characters will gradually bring out the appropriate ‘voice’; different professions have different ways of doing and saying things; but don’t overdo this, either.

Slang etc
When to use vernacular – and how to check its authenticity. Recommendation – don’t use it. Writers of Oor Wullie and the Broons comic strips are proficient; most aren’t. Try reading Mary Webb’s Gone to Earth – a good book but hard going!

Not enough words!
Some find it hard to write a lot – often too busy thinking about the right word to write. Get the thing written first, and then you can find the best words in the self-edit stage. Immerse yourself in the scene, using all the character’s senses, and describe the scene so the reader can ‘see’ it. Avoid padding, however!
Reluctance to write historical fiction ‘because of the risk of getting something wrong’. Do research for the period, but limit it to what you need for the story, otherwise you’ll be forever researching and never creating your own fiction. Read fiction set in the period you’ve chosen to get the flavour, so you can immerse yourself; when you come to write your own piece, the style will tend to reflect the period. Don’t overdo the research and include everything just because it’s interesting! Even a short story might require some research.

Speaking of dialogue
Some writers find it hard to write dialogue and rely too much on narrative – ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. (Show is more than simply using dialogue, however). Again, ‘know your characters’ to the point where you can ‘hear’ them speaking. Dialogue creates character and moves the story forward and is a faster read than dense description.
Fear of criticism, fear of not getting it right, can freeze the brain so little or nothing is written. Beat the fear, just let the words flow because you know that this is only the first draft and it can be honed.

Confidence is linked to the above. The more you write the better your writing should become. Writing regularly should improve your confidence. Generally, writers are sensitive about their work and are filled with self-doubt. That’s healthy up to a point; but restrain those doubts and just write. If you find this writing business painful to do, perhaps you should try something else? You either persevere or give up. Good writers didn’t start out being good, but they persevered, and locked away those self-doubt fears in a little box under the bed.
Write what you know
One answer to lack of confidence is ‘experience’. As we all go through life we build up a wealth of experience. Use this to drive your characters. This is ‘what you know’ – life’s experience. Of course some things we won’t be directly involved in – murder, war, etc. Some experiences have to be gained vicariously through voracious reading – fine, use these too, suitably adjusted for your characters. This is where research comes in again – non-fiction books (biographies, histories, for example) contain a wealth of knowledge and experience you can tap into.

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