Writing, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is a creatively satisfying and engaging experience. But it can also be tricky, frustrating and difficult to manage. Now, I’m no published author or writing expert but, from my own experiences, I have gathered a few rules to live by as an aspiring writer. These are my 5 ways of being a better one.
Margaret Atwood: ‘You become a writer by writing. There is no other way.’
So many people, including myself for a long time, come out with statements like ‘I love to write’ or ‘I want to be a writer’ but then don’t do the one fundamental and necessary thing that is required to make those things true. They don’t write. Writing is indeed a creative and artistic process but it is also absolutely a discipline. It’s very different to this romanticised reputation it has of people casually floating over to their keyboards and having words flow from their fingertips. Writing requires a certain level of being strict with yourself and a huge amount of self-discipline to sit down, turn off and put away all other distractions and do one thing – write.
I would like more than anything to be able to sit at my computer, start typing and for the words to flow, the sentences to form freely and the pages to start accumulating. That, however, is definitely not how writing works. Like anything that requires creativity and method, writing requires a plan long before the actual product is embarked upon. You cannot start an essay without a plan and expect it to read well and argue your points efficiently. Writing is the same, there has to be a pre-period of thinking about and writing down what you want this piece of writing to say. For non-fiction plan what points you want to make, in what order and how they’ll meld together as a whole piece. For fiction plan your characters and their actions, your storyline and the order of your events. Your pieces of writing will be far more refined and clear in what they’re trying to achieve and you a better writer if you plan first, write after.
Editing is a particularly important, towards-end step of the writers’ process. Once you have finished your piece, just because you have stopped typing or writing, doesn’t mean that the process is over. You have to, have to, go back and look over your piece, down to each word used in each sentence with the most judgemental of eyes. The writer you were at the point of the full stop of your first sentence compared to the one putting the last one of your piece are two different people. You’re going to re-read and then take out words, sentences and even paragraphs of the things you’ve said along the way. You will, of course, add new things too. This will feel tedious at times but you just have to keep in mind what an important step in the process this is and what a better writer it’ll make you. Refinement is to be valued above everything.
4. Leave and go back
Before you can fully and confidently say the word “done” there has to be a period where you go away from your piece of writing, let it sit on its own away from the outside world for a while and then come back and look at it again. You must allow your brain to detach itself from the piece for a while and then come back and look at it again. That way you can truly and properly look at it objectively and impartially, not as the piece that you want it to be. Once you’ve done this, the piece has become the finest form of what its capable of being and generally you’ll become a better writer by doing so.
I am particularly ridiculous when it comes to showing people my writing, sometimes going far too long without even telling someone I’ve written it. I find it difficult. Showing someone a piece of yours, like a story, puts yourself in a unique and very specific state of vulnerability. It’s a piece of your writing and creativity, it’s a part of you and showing that can be daunting. But it is always, always worth it. Showing it to a close friend or family member and the subsequent feedback that comes from it is a very rewarding feeling, so always do it to someone you trust and you know will give you an honest opinion. First and foremost to be a writer you have to write, but writers exist to be read.