Okay, you’ve been handed a phone line to the past and given the opportunity to pass three messages to your eighteen year-old aspiring writer self. What are you going to say? Besides put all your savings on that 100-1 winner of the Grand National.
Here’s my three:
- Join a workshop as fast as you can.
- Your plan to ensure the originality of your work has one major flaw.
- Read widely and often.
Having your work reviewed by your peers is near priceless. You will learn more in three months at a workshop than you did in three years on your own.
And you’ll learn almost as much reviewing other people’s work as you will from receiving reviews of your own stories. Why? Because it forces you to really look at a piece of writing. You’ll also discover that you learn as much from critiquing ‘flat’ writing as you do from the really good stuff because it makes you think about why one passage works and another doesn’t. Learning what not to do is just as important as learning what you should do.
Finally, workshops are a great place to meet your future inner circle – writers you trust, who have insight, who you can go to for advice when you hit that annoying wall you can’t see any way round.
It doesn’t work. It might sound like a cunning plan to insulate yourself from other influences to ensure your writing is original and untainted but you lose more than you gain. Yes, you do publish a novel that is hailed as truly different – someone even writes that it’s the first original plot he’s come across in thirty years – but it takes you years – and three novels – to find a publisher. Why? Because cutting yourself off from written fiction cut you off from the craft of writing too. You had to catch up because you didn’t realise that there was more to writing than having a story to tell. You have to be able to tell it in an entertaining way. And that means learning the craft of storytelling, learning the subtle arts of misdirection and pacing, plotting and characterisation, and how to turn an ordinary story into an extraordinary one. Plus, if you don’t read widely, how are you going to know if your next story has been done to death by others?
Both in and out of genre. There are so many ways to tell a story and some genres come with rules and traditions so the wider you read the more styles and approaches you become accustomed to. Read, learn, write.
That’s mine, what would yours be?
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
Coming in April: International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!