Tuesday, 21 December 2010

How to be a great writer

"To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour." - William Blake

Greatness is closer than you think. All it takes is humility, hard-work, and a penetrating eye.

Great writers are able to see the potential all around them. It's all too easy for us to look elsewhere for a 'great' story, having little faith in ourselves and our own world. If we can't see the dramatic all around us we're not looking hard enough. It's only by reining in our boundaries and focusing our attentions close to home we'll really begin on the path of writing something truly great. Here are some ideas on how to do that.

Take yourself seriously

You may think your life has been boring, your experience trivial, your talents limited. Think again. You cannot know everybody, but you can know yourself. Your life, your experience, is as valid as anybody else's. In truth, it's more so, because you know it intimately and it's unique to you. This also applies to your emotional responses to the world around you. Want to know how your characters will react to a certain situation? First ask yourself how you would react.

Don't patronise readers

Take the reading public seriously. Don't dismiss the fact that they'd rather read Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown than your masterpiece as ignorance. They read that stuff because they like it. Read and understand why. If you think you can write better than Messrs. Brown and Larsson then you should be able to assimilate what they are doing successfully into your own writing without compromising.

Don't pander to them either

Respect them, but don't pander to them. You may write something sellable, but you won't write something great.

Keep learning

The moment you think you know it all is the moment you stagnate. To be a great writer you must be forever a student. Always look to learn. Always look to understand. The truth is better formed in a question than an answer. Ask Socrates.

See majesty in the mundane

Greatness is not so much what you write about, but how you write about it. Don't try and write about great things – try and write about things well. Universality is not achieved by talking about great, sweeping, abstract concepts, but by making detailed and personal observations.

Genre, medium, subject-matter are no hindrance

Despite what Edward Docx might say about it. Here's a much more sensible article on the subject.

Technique is the first step toward art

Learning the craft will not limit you. Don't kid yourself that it will stifle your imagination or hinder your talent. Understanding the craft of writing will provide you with a platform on which to launch your ideas and provide you with methods to best express them. Of course, some advice is nonsense or irrelevant to the story you want to tell – but it's your job to know the difference. That doesn't mean you don't have to do the graft. It's only when you are truly fluent in the craft that you can transcend it. Or dismiss it.

8 comments:

  1. Great advice, well said. Thanks, love your blog.

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  2. If we didn't keep learning, this world would sink into stagnancy much sooner.

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  3. Great post for the solstice. Loved the ideas. A lunar eclipse and Socratic wisdom from your blog make this a perfect day.

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  4. Few would dare to write a post like this, James - bravo! This post is like a personality test - if you think like this, you can't help but be a writer.

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  5. Thank you all for the comments, guys

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  6. Great post,as usual. I love reading Dan Brown. I know it's not Grapes of Wrath or anything, but I'm just saying Thank God for that! :)

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