Sunday, 1 August 2010

Alone with your talent

When things aren't going well, it helps to have instructions, a guide-book, a set of rules to get it right.

Thing is with fiction, there really isn't any right or wrong – the goal is unclear, the finish line uncertain.

You can devour the best writing books under the sun, you can know what constitutes good writing, you can recognise and understand exceptional work when you read it, you may even be able to critique and edit to help other peoples' writing shine; you may live wildly, have broadened your experience and developed your imagination but when faced with the blank page of your manuscript, all that means nothing - at that moment, and for every moment you face that screen, you stand alone with your inspiration and talent - these are the things that limit you, restrict you, that define the boundaries of your creativity.

Trouble is, inspiration and talent cannot have rules applied to them, you cannot learn them from books or buy them down the stationary store. If anything, all you've ever read or learned can stifle and restrict those things.

So what the hell do you do about it?

Transcend the Rules

Become so fluent in the mysteries of the craft you can dismiss them at will.

F*ck the Rules

Utterly ignore everything you've learned and read about writing, and just write the damned story.

Forget about the Reader

And write for yourself – write for therapy, write for your own excitement and titillation – write what floats your boat and turns you on. Chances are what works for you will work for others, and if it doesn't, you'll have written something truly unique.

Forget about the Publishing Deal

Who cares what the establishment gate-keepers like or will represent? Truth is, they don't really know what will sell – they understand the industry, but they know no more about the human condition than you do – in fact less, because that's your job.

Forget about Validation

You can write a best seller and still get slammed by the critics. You can write a critically acclaimed masterpiece that no-one wants to read. You can write the best novel you can possibly write and no-one wants to buy it. Or you can not write at all.

Writing isn't a living, it's a way of life, and you will do it no matter what. Once you accept that, the rest is easy.


  1. Yay!

    I'm all in favour of Just Doing It.

    Not that I've anything against acclaim...

  2. (Punches fist in the air) Great manifesto. I always try to write what would move me, and in such a way that will make readers feel the same.

    (BTW, your blogroll's pointing at my old URL...)

  3. Hey Lexi - how's it going? Nice to hear from you again. Yep, certainly believe you have to can the 'rules' when staring at an empty page - otherwise they can paralyse you. You can be a mind of information on writing technique, but it's cold comfort when you're looking at an empty page - that requires something else entirely.

  4. Hey Roz, glad you liked the post. Just tried to fix my blog roll with your new URL, but your RSS feed doesn't seem to be working, so blogger won't add it. Went to your site directly and IE said the same thing - might explain why I'm not seeing your posts in Google Reader either? You might want to get that sorted.

  5. So so true, especially the part about validation. So many popular things that suck.

    Marc Vun Kannon

  6. This is a great post James.

    Love this quote:

    "Writing isn't a living, it's a way of life, and you will do it no matter what."

    I'm going to post this in my office.

  7. Excellent. Just what I needed. Now off to burn the car and the writing books.

  8. Thanks for the positive feedback guys. Strangely enough, after all the posts that I've worked hard on and thought a lot about, this one I wrote off pat - kind of proves the point I suppose.

  9. @Roderic - that's *exactly* the response I wanted!

  10. The more I read about writing, the more I believe I don't have the correct tools or skill to do the job. Then, I'll read a novel by a respected author and think, well that wasn't as good as I'd expected.
    You're right, we write because it's a passion and we're driven to do so, so I'll focus on that and forget about seeing my novel in Waterstone's :-)

  11. I wouldn't forget it, Hem. I don't buy for a moment you don't have the tools or the skill. I've read your stuff, and it's excellent. And with the commitment and dedication you show to your work, it's just a matter of time, the way I see it.