Three months ago today, I settled in here, among the cobwebs in the sunny corner behind the bed, with a thermos of tea, a pile of books, and the wise old Internet. Avoiding the world to make space, head space, to learn.
As novice writers we have limited choices for improvement. It’s easy enough to jump in at the deep end and learn lessons from making mistakes. Emulating those who understand their character arc from their pinch point by ‘having a go’ has immense value. Not to be sniffed at.
After all, how many politicians have an MA in Running a Country? Do you remember the pain of gravel rash from falling off your bike as a youngster? I do. Hard won lessons etch deep in the mind and serve us well.
And the classics, the best writing of all time, grew from little more than pen, paper and ideas. “Are you on Goodreads?” asked Aristophanes. “Not me” said Seneca, “I prefer to learn the hard way”.
There’s Got to Be More
Yet as we progress, this approach becomes steadily more difficult. We become like a hamster on a wheel, running to stand still, especially in the crowded blogosphere. As time passes, our learning curve flattens, and the barrel, once bottomless, drains of new ideas. We sigh when we trudge to the keyboard, dissatisfied and frustrated, as before. Living the dream? Er, no!
Not Another Manic Monday
But, the eternal flame of progress is fuelled with knowledge. Venturing into uncharted literary land reveals our unknown unknowns and it is here we will grow.
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. — Donald Rumsfeld
Waning enthusiasm has value, it’s a sign. Not a cue to give up but the proverbial stout boot to give us a kick in the right direction. Insight is only clear with hindsight, so days passed as my realisation of this impending binary choice crystalized.
Choice one was hustle how-to articles, lists or, jumping on the opinion train. This approach works well for many. Part and parcel though is planet-sized self-promotion. As much as writing itself, success in popular writing depends on finessing the social media maze. And don’t forget the technology. Do you know your MailChimp from your OptinMonster? Will Jetpack help?
The Hat Didn’t Fit
Popular writing suits many writers and a few even make an excellent income.
Checking my wardrobe reveals I don’t have the right clothes to be an influencer. Or a selfie stick. The emphasis is exacting so, without any hint of criticism or distain, I say the popular and plentiful approach to writing is not my dream.
When the idea matured, the binary choice simplified. With one option gone the other was clear. Sweep aside the part formed ideas, create head space, and learn.
Story: The Heart of Fiction.
Such a simple word: story. Like a tiny nondescript door in a quiet room which, when opened, reveals an immense bustling world. It’s packed with characters, thousands, scurrying round like ants in an amber world lit by fire, powered by imagination, and populated by everything good, bad and in-between. Like space and physics, there is no limit to story.
Like space and physics, story too has structure.
I read a hundred how-to articles to discover other writing avenues. I subscribed to a zillion lists, used excessive time reading them, then unsubscribed from most. But not all. There’s a gem in every stack of books; some worthy of worship, many just OK, and some still unread.
And what better guise than learning storytelling to watch piles of movies and read heaps of novels. YouTube offers some seriously good feeds about writing from nearly every perspective. It even contains lectures by masters such as Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut.
Each in their own way adds to our knowledge.
It’s a long road to MFA but my high-school education, where weaponized Hamlet pounded ‘English’ into students, is also left far behind.
I Woke Up One Morning…
I woke up to brightness this morning. Sunshine, shadows and dry ground. Spring is here and all our moods lighten. It feels like a time to do something.
Armed with recently acquired insight I resolve to a̶d̶o̶p̶t̶ ̶a̶n̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶d̶o̶g̶ write a new article. Not a story you understand. No, fiction is still a cliff-edge in my head. A deep dive which needs much pacing back and forth before taking the plunge, hopefully to discover the water is warm after all.
One day I will write a real story, with the characters in my head landing on printed page and coming alive. But for now, this thought has as much appeal as becoming an actor. For now, I stay in the literary paddling pool and watch those diving off the high board from afar. Who knows, perhaps one day, that will be me.
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