What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?
Only one thing? Anyone who wishes to have known only one things before they began writing is a far superior writer to myself; when I first thought about how to answer this, I was sure I wouldn’t be able to, as there was nothing I wish I had known. However, having given it more thought I quickly realised there’s a wee list of things.
The first thing is something I’ve constantly had drilled into me by teachers at school: plan. “You need a beginning, a middle, and an end” is what I was always told; it was almost a mantra with how firmly the believed in it. I suppose I can’t really say planning is something I wish I knew to do, as I did know – I just didn’t do it. In Primary school we would be given little character sheets to fill in: name, age, description, friends, what they’re doing and why. Whilst my classmates filled these in, probably making it as “them” a character as possible, I would give them an age and then stare at the sheet for a while, trying to conjure a character up from nowhere. After a few minutes of staring blankly, I would start on the plot; I didn’t care who they were, I just wanted to know what they were doing and what tragic accident could befall upon them. Even now, I’m still not very interested in my characters – giving them a name is one of the worst parts of writing in my opinion. It used to be I’d get friends to give suggestions; now I just give them the first thing I can think of, and I change it later if necessary. The naming process if part of the reason I hate planning my characters. I just feel that if you’re stumped at the first question, don’t even continue. I want my characters to develop as I go along – with a plan, it feels to me as if you can’t deviate from this original idea, you need to continue writing about this regular John Doe you don’t even care about!
But it turns out, a little bit of planning can make all the difference. I have a character in my current Camp NaNoWriMo project. His name is Eric, but he was born Erin – he’s transgender. When I started writing, that’s all I knew about him; that and his family didn’t accept it. I liked Eric well enough, but I didn’t know him, and he didn’t feel real to me. Then, at Camp NaNoWriMo, someone posted a 46–question long character profile for you to fill in if you wished. I thought I’d give it a go, because I was getting nowhere with the story. Whilst I’ve not yet finished the profile, I now have over 2,000 words all about Eric – I know his favourite bands and films, I know where he lives, and I know his dreams and fears, and much more besides. And even if I’ve not incorporated any of this into the story, I now know more about Eric and these things can be written with ease when/if the time comes – I won’t have to sit for 10 minutes wondering where he’s living when something life–changing happens. And do you know what? I even found that I enjoyed planning!
However, I still reject “you need a beginning, a middle, and end” as pure nonsense. When an idea comes to me, I get the end, then the beginning, and maybe a few tiny suggestions of things that could happen. I don’t usually want to know the middle, so I don’t often write down anything for it. I want to be surprised by what happens as I write – because there’s a high chance your readers will be surprised too. Likewise, if you know exactly what’s going to happen before you even write it, it’s likely your readers will guess it too. I like reading books which keep you guessing, which throw in unexpected plot movements and character development – and that the kind of books I want to write.
I also wish I knew how difficult writing actually is. It’s always been my ambition to write, and I think I’ve always assumed it’s something easy – just look at all the books out there! However as I’ve got older, I’ve realised it’s one thing to say “I’m going to be a writer”, but it’s something else entirely to succeed at it. Sure, anyone can write, but not everyone can write well. Now, of course everyone has their own opinions of what makes a good book, but there are some books you read and they make you think that nobody in their right mind would ever like – To Love a Vampire and Any Red – Blooded Girl (both reviewed here) are two prime examples of such books. Books like that do two things for me – on one hand they make me despair of what’s becoming passable for a book, but at the same time it gives me hope and reassurance than I can write something better, so that’s something!
Above all, I think that the best advice I’ve been given, and the best advice I can give, is: don’t give up. Many a time have I started writing something, only to give up after a few pages, whether due to lack of inspiration or having no time to write. Last November I took part in NaNoWriMo, and by the end of the month I had written 11,347 words. As the goal was to reach 50,000 words I wasn’t very pleased with myself, but then the powers that be over at NaNoWriMo sent out little emails/notifications just congratulating everyone for what they’d achieved, whether it was 500 words or 5,000. And through that I realised it didn’t matter that I’d only written a little over 11,000 words – what counts is that I started it; I wrote the longest story I’ve written in my life. And okay, it’s still not finished, but it will be one day, and thanks to NaNoWriMo I managed to write more than I would have if left to my own devices. Even if you feel like your writing is going nowhere, make an effort to write just a little every day – whether you write a sentence or a bit dialogue, or even a little bit about your character(s) it all adds up in the long run, and I know it personally makes me feel better about my writing and like I might actually get somewhere. Admittedly, I don’t often stick to this advice myself, but it’s certainly something I’m going to start doing, for everything I write.
I feel like I didn’t quite manage to express what I was trying to say there – honestly, that last paragraph is a mess! – but hey ho, it’s now the 19th and I REALLY need to get this up!
And the rest of the blog chain participants:
5th – http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/
6th – http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/
7th – http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/
8th – http://miriamjoywrites.com/
9th – http://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/
10th – http://www.brookeharrison.com/
11th – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/
12th – http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/
13th – http://theweirdystation.blogspot.com/
14th – http://taratherese.wordpress.com/
15th – http://sammitalk.wordpress.com/
16th – http://eighthundredninety.blogspot.com/
17th – http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/
18th – http://novelexemplar.wordpress.com/
19th – https://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/
20th – https://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/
21st – http://theloonyteenwriter.wordpress.com/
22nd – http://roomble.wordpress.com/
23rd – http://thependanttrilogy.wordpress.com/
24th – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ – The topic for August’s blog chain will be announced.