Wednesday, 3 October 2012
Writing is a journey
I often think of my writing journey as an expedition through the mountains – and not just the local kind either; the ones you can drive up and take a seat on a bench to admire the sunset over the city, no; I’m talking Rockies here. Precipitous terrain. And what better than animal guides to lead the way?
And when I started out that venture, an intensely passionate young wolf, treading ahead without observing the lay of the land, I met with a sheer cliff-face, scoffing, demanding I turn around, tail between my legs.
Like many, I started writing without having the slightest clue, simply penning from the heart because the gift is inherent. But, as I soon found out, that was incredibly naïve; much more than just that required.
An otter, quirky, unorthodox, my passion intrinsic, but what did I know of the mountain at all, the intimacy of its spiritual essence, its magnitude of pride & honour commanding to be scaled?
I unapologetically broke every rule that I didn’t know existed. Never knowing when to stop writing, until 600,000 words later. And with zero editing, I proudly printed off my amazing book and hired a forklift truck to take it up the post office to send it off to a publisher without even having queried them first. Ye-s, not long before I’d become the next J K Rowling. Ha!
A raven, highly enthusiastic, perched atop lofty peaks, my name whistling between. Ye-s, I’d soar that mountainous terrain. But I plummet instead, spiralling and splattering.
And then I discovered an amateur writing site, where immediately I felt intimidated; people’s ability putting my efforts to shame; using words like ‘exposition’ and ‘verisimilitude’ that I didn’t even understand, let alone have a clue as to how to apply them to my work.
A lame goose now, limping treacherous, infinite lands where I encounter many an obstacle; scaling icy plateaus that slip me down deceptive paths into mouths of predators.
Obviously I’d a great deal to learn, and so I dove right in, surprisingly being quite well received for a novice. ‘Encouraging.” And I soaked up reviews on not only my, but everyone else’s work, embraced constructive criticism while seeing others becoming highly defensive, not willing to learn (and who still can be; the same folks not moved on any; their writing unchanged, still amateur after all these years).
And now I swim a mountain torrent; a salmon, electric, focused, intuitive and wholly creative. Upstream, to pinnacles low, but the vista hazy, a mist lingering a precipice that still I might plunge.
I learned how and how not to interact with online society; the written word not always perceived as intended – especially amid different culture; easily lost in translation – and becoming annoyed at the sugar-coating being sprinkled liberally, artificial sweetening that, despite what they say, still begets rot. And then I found my clique; invited to a writers’ critique group where people stirred cups of libretto without taking sugar at all.
I build a dam upon those that would battle my wit to cross the river, for I am beaver, hear me… well… thump… really. Cunning. My mental acuity, razor sharp, but compassionate, generous, helpful and loyal too.
In this more ‘serious’ writers’ group, I discovered the importance of presentation in ways that maybe I hadn’t really thought of: similar size paragraphs; a mixture of long and short sentences; avoiding passive voice; learning how to use semicolons properly; the importance of consistent tense; avoiding the word ‘was’; how to show and not tell, and much, much more – invaluable stuff for a newbie.
Pragmatic, methodical, reaching higher plateaus where, as a bear, I enter a den and prance out a deer, discover my humour, a natural intelligence that, when combined, will write me well.
And then, going onto my first writing course, I pleasantly found that it’d all prepared me; I wasn’t clueless; actually had an inkling of much that I was to be taught in class. But still, a great deal to learn: the formulaic and technical aspects; how to create ‘FBI profiles’ for primary and secondary characters; what they should and shouldn’t be doing, and finally realising that one needed to develop an intimate relationship with anything before effectively dumping its rulebook ass.
And earned, those wings, I have, soaring now, eagle-eyed, holier-than-thou, over a mountain pass, a road to nowhere on which I spy people driving, blinkered, believing they can bypass monumental obstacles with the greatest of ease.
The point is I believe something like joining a writing site is necessary for any writer. An ‘apprenticeship’ if you like. But I wonder in this age of indie publishing if they’re being forsaken; new writers going straight for the jugular; publishing their stories without any kind of training at all, and perhaps wondering why they can’t even give their books away?
And some might just be; the writing site that I’m (still) technically a member of has all but crumbled; been stagnant for months; not updated by its administrators. And that’s a shame, for some kind of basic training just makes ‘sheer’ sense. Doesn’t it? Not even Sir Edmund Hillary decided to scale Everest without having some know how.
Oh yes, and those 600k words I mentioned? Hardest thing I ever did was to edit that story time and time again as my writing ability evolved. Today though, I credit it for me putting into practice everything I ever learned. Yes, an invaluable tool, although I really wouldn’t recommend doing it that way at all; save yourself the trouble; learn how to write properly from the outset. It’s all grown up now, divided into two books @ 200k each, and I’ve very proud of my first born, even if it’s teen years were terrible.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a rather belligerent little Sherpa waiting….
(Originally published as a guest post on Indies Unlimited)