Writers (Just) Write, Right?

With todays’s post, I am entering ‘You Are Enough,’ a competition hosted by Positive Writer, one of the sites I visit when in need of encouragement and inspiration.

Leaps of faith?
Photo credit: Marko Pekić, Unsplash

Do you dream of writing a book? If you tell people, do they smile and give you a metaphoric pat-on-the-head? Are you brimful of stories but don’t know how to start, or believe you aren’t good enough? If so, let me tell you about my mini-breakthrough.

Just who do I think I am? I didn’t study English to degree-level. The subtleties of grammar are a mystery. I know little about sentence construction, hidden verbs, or how to structure a novel. I didn’t realise stories had ‘arcs.’ Why would anyone read what I write? I am a nobody, a fraud. I am an imposter.

But I’m an imposter with myths and legends hammering at the inside of my skull.

I’ve always enjoyed the power and play of words. I’d spend hours as a child writing stories, poems, and homemade newspapers. But I never gave serious consideration to becoming a writer. With my working-class background, a secure job and steady income were the height of ambition. I took the sensible route, studying geology and working in industry. Creative writing was pushed aside. But I still had ideas – a dormant word-volcano, eager for release. And in a dark, distant corner, a voice whispered: ‘One day. I’ll get to it one day.’

Years passed by and I wrote nothing. I didn’t think I could. Worse, I didn’t think I should. With my background and insecurities, I agreed with those who scorn: serious writing wasn’t for ‘the likes of me’. Disillusioned, trapped in an industry where ego-massaging and profit margins were all that seemed to matter, I needed connection, a real sharing of human experience. Life was empty without it. If I had a soul, it withered.

Forced to give up work for health reasons, eighteen months ago I wrote my first piece of fiction in thirty-four years. Knowing little about the art of the short story, I read any guidance I could find. I spent hours choosing the perfect word, lost days sharpening sentences. It took me two months to complete a 1,500 word story – madness. But the sense of accomplishment was the best I’ve known.

More short stories followed, but it was always a struggle. Surely it shouldn’t be this difficult? Real authors sit down with perfectly-formed sentences flowing, unstemmed, from their fingertips, don’t they? By the end of May 2019, I’d almost given up. I’d found something I loved, that made me feel alive, but I wasn’t good enough. My past career had left me hollow – now it seemed my writing skills were null, hopes for the future void.

Seven months later, change is afoot. Every morning I write, research, or scribble down new ideas before they evaporate. Every day, I learn something new that helps me improve. I have a manageable writing schedule, and I’m no longer afraid of the hard work. 

How the devil did that happen? Seeking approval, I sent a story to a critiquing service. Six agonising weeks later, I received an email from science fiction author John DeChancie. He was complimentary about my story. It was far more encouraging than I’d feared. A tiny speck of hope was born.

More recently, I enrolled in Jerry B. Jenkins’ Dreamer to Author course. Focussing on writers’ fear, it aims to encourage those with the writing dream who haven’t been able to progress. If my paradigm-shift is a measure, Jerry’s on to a winner. His inspirational advice made an enormous difference. 

A writer’s fears are well-founded: writing is a long, hard slog in a world of tough competition. The conceit is to grab that fear, smash yourself about the head with it, use it to produce the best work possible. All authors began as novices. None were born with complete sets of novels ready to print. It’s obvious. It’s logical. I knew that. But it took hearing it from a professional to apply it to myself. 

Successful authors learn their skills and continue to learn. They write and edit, edit and write. They go back, doing it again and again, in pursuit of perfection. Practice. Repeat. An orchestra wouldn’t arrive at the Royal Albert Hall expecting to give a bravura performance without rehearsal.

Buoyed by these revelations, I asked myself three questions:

– Do I have less ability than everyone else? Answer: Probably not. 

– Okay, so am I any less likely to be published? Answer: Possibly not.

– So why not try? Why not indeed?

So here I am, writing. Following a write-edit later cycle, I write without censure, without head-editing before committing words to page. Leaving the technical issues until later frees up the imagination, allowing me to start. I have a long way to go. I am as yet unpublished, but that’s okay: I’m an author-in-training. I’m being true to myself and enjoying the puzzle and the pain of the writing process. My change in mindset is the real success.

Who do I think I am? I am a writer. 

Who do you think you are?

Ask yourself those three questions and picture this: Jane Human opens your book. She reads your description of torment, putting into words how she felt but could not fathom. You have connected, time and space shrinking to nothing. You made it happen.

I believe anyone with a tale to tell can write a compelling story. We can learn the technicalities, but the passion, that soulful need to reach out and touch others? That is the foundation. That is the gift. If you’ve got that, get going. I’d love to hear how you get on.