Hands up if you, dear reader, ever wanted to be a writer. Odds are, your finger is either slowly pointing skywards, or you already have something finished, or a WIP (work in progress), or both.
Congratulations, you’re in good and, most of all, sympathetic company.
I don’t even remember the transition from voracious reader to budding writer; as a child it seemed logical that, if words on paper took you into another world, all I needed were pen and paper. No, don’t ask how many words I found that rhymed with spring (the poetry of an eight-year old). Let me say in my defence that the short story I wrote about the hamster and the stolen raw diamonds hidden among his food pellets could have become an instant classic, had I at age twelve not been blissfully unaware of the concept of a second or third draft. But at least it was original, and intended as an homage to Agatha Christie whose works already filled up a complete shelf in my room.
And that was it, for years, until I trained as a print reporter, constantly battling ever tighter deadlines. By then I was aware of the benefits of a second or third draft, but too time-strapped to do more than a five-minute polish.
This became my greatest obstacle when I finally found the courage to turn to fiction writing. I was so used to cranking out impressive numbers of words on a daily basis and coming up with idea after idea, if research on of them needed postponing, or events made them obsolete, that it was hard taking my time.
But – unless you are tied into a contract with strict deadlines – there’s no need for a mad rush, if your story isn’t quite there yet. By all means write, write as much as you can, but don’t beat yourself up if the words don’t flow. Or if what sounds utterly perfect in your head, doesn’t look as great on the page.
The best advice I ever had was, first get it written and then get it right. You’re allowed to type or scribble bad sentences, dig plot-holes large enough to hide an elephant in and let your characters wallow around in clichés (the same goes for poets, screenwriters, playwrights, novelists, non-fiction writers, diarists). It doesn’t matter if your work is never intended for the public or something that you will keep buried in a drawer. Allow yourself the freedom to write. Then read it, laugh, cry or bemoan you utter lack of talent (every writer I know tends to wallow in despair in between short-lived bursts of elation). And then get feedback.
There are more writers’ groups out there than ever, either meeting face to face (google them or ask at your local libraries), or join one of the many online groups.
Don’t ask your family or your best friends. Even if (that’s a big if) they possess all the qualities of a good reader and point out weaknesses, inconsistencies, logic errors, or praise your wit, sharp plots and lively dialogue, you will either feel hurt or insecure that they only want to spare their feelings.
Step away if critique turns into an attack of your work. Even the clumsiest effort deserves respect. Be respectful in return. Rejoice in your friends’ successes and support them in the low moments.
Don’t show your work to anyone if you can’t bear rejection. But most of all, love the writing. And please, please, please, whatever you do, stay a reader. There is no greater comfort escape, and means of enlightenment than a book. And if you have read Terry Pratchett’s ‘Carpe Jugulum’, you will find out that a book can save you in more ways than you probably dreamt of.