Writing 101

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It is now almost two and a half years since I began writing after a lay-off of over two decades and in that time I have published over 1200 articles on Rivers of Grue. There have been many peaks and valleys during that time and the dreaded writer’s block has reared its ugly head on more than one occasion. However, when I look back at my early work, it astonishes me just how much I have progressed as a scribe. Laziness had always been my downfall as I did just enough in all my previous endeavors to be considered indispensable but never enough to truly excel. The reason for this was simple; I simply wasn’t that interested. In the back of my mind I was already aware that I wasn’t placed here on Earth to be a recruitment consultant or retail manager. Creative souls can only be shackled for so long before the penny drops and, when this happened, I suddenly discovered the enthusiasm for learning I had left behind during my adolescence.

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Today I wish to speak to you all about my own experiences from the past thirty months and offer enlightenment about the do’s and don’ts of becoming a successful scribe. I have never made a secret of the fact that I believe we are all in this together and that knowledge is not something we should hoard and instead a gift to be shared openly. Sometimes there is far too much emphasis on gaining the upper hand on others, and clambering to the top of your respective tree, and this disinterests me entirely. I would much rather help someone else gain an elevated foothold than use their heads as springboards to hoist myself to a higher plateau. I am already aware of my own ability and believe that will see me good in the long run. However, there are others around me who are still fighting the good fight and I love nothing more than to empower them to shake their own insecurities and develop their own craft.

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It isn’t that I don’t possess competitive spirit as long as it is healthy. However, if I learn something invaluable, then I want others around me to share that intelligence as together we can bring out the very best in each other. I may have reclusive tendencies and it can feel as though I prefer to fly solo but, in truth, that couldn’t be farther than accurate. I love to inspire those whom I love and respect and watch them flourish more than anything else. As a result of paying it forward; I receive my own remuneration in the form of shared energy. There is nothing more disheartening than watching a creative mind stagnate and this can occur the moment you underestimate the importance of sparking those fuses collectively. Thus, I have decided to pass on some trade secrets which have been invaluable to me during my tenure as Keeper of The Crimson Quill. Hopefully, they will prove as incalculable to you as they have to me.

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Treat every word as though it costs a dollar. A very wise person taught me this and, at the time, they were speaking of poetry but I realized that it is transferable to anything that you write. Those who know me will know that I am not what you would call a bookworm. On the contrary, I have a woefully short attention span, and this is the reason that both audio and visual stimulus play such a significant role in my work. If you can explain something in ten words which could easily be pulled taut over a hundred then it is far better to keep things succinct and not fritter them unnecessarily. Writers look to paint a comprehensive picture with their prose and this can mean elaborating on the most diminutive detail. Ask yourself whether this is necessary and, even if it is, does it warrant a whole paragraph? Be mindful of your audience and be aware that time is something which many have in short supply. They could just as easily be playing Fruit Ninja and frantically slicing watermelons as they chase that elusive high score. Does it really matter what color the wallpaper is or whether or not their protagonist uses energy-efficient bulbs?

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I have heard it remarked many times that you have a limited window with any piece of creative writing to grab your reader’s attention and ensure that their minds don’t wander and I am inclined to agree with this point. You may well have the intention of slow-burning and this is all well and good but, if your readership have already switched off, then what you are doing just isn’t fuel-efficient. Grab their attention from the offset and this need not necessarily mean beginning each fable with a bloody murder or provocative sex scene. A good case in point would be a piece of fiction which I released last year called Vaginosaur. The first line reads as follows: “It can be a real drag having a pussy”. I’m not saying you have to go for shock value to engage your addressee but, for a tale revolving around a young lady with a carnivorous vulva, I knew I had to commence with bite. I wasn’t concerned with alienating the reader as, chances were, they already had a vague idea where this was headed. But raised eyebrows also means wide eyes so I was off to the perfect start.

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I primarily write for myself as I know full well how fast my interest can wain when reading. If I can make it through a piece of my own literature without skimming text or noticing the money spider rappelling down the drape to my left then I consider this job done and use it to inform what I put out into the public domain. This is not to say that I don’t remain mindful of my readership at all times but I trust that I won’t pull the wool over my own eyes and pass something off as acceptable when it’s clearly below par. I tend to be very self-critical and actually wouldn’t have it any other way. Moreover, I have no fear of hurting my own feelings or delivering critique which can’t be deemed as constructive. The bottom line is that I want to improve and any writer unwilling to take it on the chin from time to time is never likely to fulfil their potential. If somebody offers their opinion then I will gladly take it but I never forget that I also have one of my very own and I can access this at any given moment.

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Having said this, sometimes we require another to take a look at our work from an entirely different vantage point. Recently I wrote a piece of poetry which felt a little too long-winded when I read it back afterwards. When I presented this to a friend, they confirmed my suspicion, informing me that said verse was overlong and in need of tightening. Hearing this was a breath of fresh air and I edited accordingly. I’m proud of the end result and also grateful for their feedback as it would have been easy for them to simply pass it off as fine. You don’t have to take advice; ultimately the final say is yours and yours alone. But it is something you should always be open to receiving. Needless to say, it is imperative that you find yourself somebody willing to propose any necessary alterations, and steer away from those who criticize for the purpose of coming across superior. If you remain unsure then trust your gut as it is a more trustworthy source than either your heart or head.

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Imagination is a splendid tool. We tend to create our own boundaries and these can stop us from truly letting our minds roam freely. I have suggested in the past that every blank page is a canvas and how we adorn it is our choice to make. Every time we sit down to write, we are faced with endless possibility. Unlike film, budgetary constraints need not provide us with shackles. If we choose Mars as our chosen playground then set design and special effects need not concern us. Casting isn’t an issue, neither is equipment hire for those all important crane shots or attaining the correct lighting. If our story is set during the American civil war; we have all the extras we need to populate the battlefield. This places us in a rather exclusive position as writers as we can basically do whatever the hell we wish without running over budget. It is this freedom which allows us to explore without reservation and push ourselves further than ever before thought possible.

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I am always looking to expand my vocabulary and am not ashamed to admit that I have used Thesaurus more times than I care to mention when searching for an alternative word or phrase. However, this hasn’t been an exercise in coming across intellectual and, instead, I look to understand the meaning of any new word I happen across. As a result, my trips to the online wordmaster have become increasingly seldom, and I now have a vast pool to draw from. Having said that, sometimes it pays to keep things simple. For example, I could have just used elementary there for extra Scrabble points but decided against it. Nobody likes a smart Aleck and if your choice of words feel insincere then it can just as easily cause a disconnect with your reader. If you are writing dialogue, then try and refrain from over-complicating things, as the key to a flowing conversation is to make sure it feels unforced and natural. This provides perhaps the sternest test to any aspiring writer but is also hugely satisfying once mastered.

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I trust that this exercise has proved beneficial. These are just a few of the lessons I have learned over the past couple of years and I would rather share my findings than act as the proverbial squirrel and sit around polishing my acorns. I will close by reminding you that it only takes for a single person to be affected by your words to have made a difference. It isn’t feasible to please all of the people all of the time but, if your work resonates with a solitary soul, then there is every reason to own that achievement. Should they decide to do the same then you may have created a chain reaction without even knowing it. Then one day, when you are feeling sub-par and struggling for inspiration, you may just read something which will do the same for you.

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1 Comment

  1. You are so right: We create our own boundaries. Granted, I got much out of this article, of course, but our inner censor always seems to undo us, as well as our inner editor. You are so right, my friend, to WRITE ON with abandon.

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