Writing Lessons 1

I get a fairly regular number of emails and tweets from people who really want to write, but just cannot quite work out what to write.

Only this morning I had a rather desperate-sounding message from a guy who has all the tools, but as he said in his note, ‘I have tried and struggled with this for several weeks now … I just haven’t been able to make this work.’

It’s a real cry for help. So, for the next few weeks I will try to set out how a non-writer can move from that side of the fence to the ‘happily writing’ side in a few easy lessons. Or at least, the easiest I can work out!

So, here it begins.

First things first: you need to be quite sure that you want to write. You have to analyse why you are setting out on what is going to be a very lengthy process involving a great deal of hard work. 

Nowadays there is a cult of fame with a lot of youngsters. When asked what they want to do with their lives, where once people would have responded with ‘Engine driver’, or ‘airline pilot’, now it is quite common to hear, ‘to be famous.’ 

Fame is a wonderful thing, I imagine, but it has its costs. First is the risk that the fame will be all too fleeting. Second is the risk that the person focuses so hard on being famous that they forget the need to be famous for something. If someone goes through school planning to be famous as a footballer, that’s fine. But if they are not picked by the time they’re 14, they will not achieve their ambition. 

For many, to be a writer has a similar connotation. It sounds an easy life: as Terry Pratchett used to say, it was ‘indoor work with no heavy lifting’. However, it is not easy. Especially when you are starting out.

Remember, when you embark on writing a book, it will take many, many man-hours of effort. You are hoping to commit over 100,000 words to paper in an interesting, thrilling, cannot-put-this-book-down-it’s-so-gripping sort of way. That is not something that just happens. It’s something that takes a lot of energy, a lot of thought, a lot of planning, a lot of graft. And then it takes a lot of discarding and rewriting. Writing is Rewriting is a famous quotation, and it is true. 

There is another saying, which many people like to quote: ‘Everyone has a book inside them.’ However, someone once added the rider, ‘And most of them should leave it there.’

This is not to say that writing is not a wonderful, creative, exciting experience. It is only to say, make sure that you want to write a book because you love to write. Don’t take up your pen or keyboard to write just because you like the idea of being exceedingly wealthy, or because you want to be famous. There are infinitely easier ways of doing those, if that is what you want.

While both aspirations are fine, getting to riches or fame is as easy through writing as it is through playing football, cricket, becoming a lawyer or computer programmer. By which I mean, it takes the same drive and ambition, and the same amount of luck. 

So my first bit of advice is, bear in mind that writing does not suit everyone. It may not suit you. 

Okay, that is the negative reality-check out of the way. My next post will be considerably more positive, I promise. 

And now, to start to prepare for the next one, try sitting down with a blank sheet of paper or screen. Turn off the radio and television. Put your phone onto silent. And now describe someone you know really well. A whole paragraph all about that one person. Describe his/her face, their build, their clothing, their ambitions, their employment, their car, their goals, their likes and dislikes, their children, their wife. 

All I want is a description of a person, their story and history. Because until you have a person, you don’t have a story to tell.

Best of luck!

2 Responses to “Writing Lessons 1”
  1. Lindsey Russell says:

    Re illustration for the post – looks like my printouts . Love ‘post its’ – mine stick out the top as well as the side. Colour coded for characters, subplots, and clues?


  2. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Commonsense writing tips from Michael ;)


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