Thursday, 20 May 2010

Naive writer in search of basic instincts

It's time for a confession. I only began writing in July 2009 and I had the idea that you just sat at a computer or in front of a notebook and wrote down whatever sailed through your mind. So that is basically what I did.

I set myself a wordcount target for each day. I had to write 2000 words a day and I forced myself to do it. Three months later I finished it, I quickly showed it to my sister and mother who, of course, said it was marvellous and I thought, OK, that's it. I'll send it to publishers/agents and have it published by Christmas. (Stop laughing, this is serious.)

That was when I started reading blogs and I learnt about the reality of sending query letters and submissions, about rejections and the infinite community of yet-to-be-published writers, about the average time it takes to see your book in a bookshop window (if ever), yes, about today's writers' hell.

Then I received the critique on my manuscript from the Romantic Novelists' Association which was another bombshell. There were all these things to be considered when writing, all this about the balance between dialogue and narrative, ending chapters on cliffhangers, proactive characters, meandering plots...

But how did the great classical writers know all these things when they wrote? I'd swear they couldn't enrol on online Creative Writing Master Degrees, they couldn't check blogs for advice on how to show but not tell, no How-to-get-published books, no desperate tweets to fellow writers asking for suggestions... Maybe they didn't have as much competition as we have today, but it can't have been easy in their times either.

So why are our natural instincts no good any more? Or is there still people out there who do have those natural instincts for writing and get it right at their first try? That's probably it, the classical writers that made it to our era were those very few writers who were born with innate instructions on how to write. And it was probably them who set the models in the first place for everyone else. So there you go, I've found someone to blame for my struggle to find the right balance in plot, characters, page number...


  1. I think that your confession is a common one. We fall in love with our characters, we feel excitement when we bring them to life... We think to ourselves, this is finally IT! Reality sets in, and we are reminded that we are not the only writers in the world thinking about it. We can't give up on our instincts, no matter how basic or complex they are. I'll blame the classical writers with you!

  2. This is a good point.

    I'd like to trust my instincts in terms of my writing (not in terms of selling my work which is a different matter), because there's so much advice out there. Sometimes reading advice about writing makes me question my work even though what I had been doing was just fine.

  3. Hi Kristy,
    Yes there are a whole lot of us experiencing all these ups and downs. We'll just have to persevere and keep loyal to our instincts even if we do have to redesign them a bit.

  4. Paulo, I actually trust your instincts more than mine at this point. As you say, it's good to question our work but we must have some faith in it, we can't adjust our instincts to everyone's taste, we'd just lose ourselves in the attempt.

  5. I think Paulo is absolutely correct. I finally have a novel that I am putting 100% into. I have attempted over the years to write a full manuscript, only to stop a few chapters into them discouraged. For the past few weeks I have been pouring myself into my novel, not over thinking, just writing. Recently, I started to read the advice of others, and I lost something.... I started editing and over analyzing. I have to listen to my characters and keep giving them the life that they are meant to have! Selling will come with it's own demands, but for now, my writing demands my instincts!

  6. I was a freshman in high school when I first started out, so of course I didn't know anything either. But I was an avid reader, and my instincts would tell me what was and was not working in terms of plot, prose, characterization, etc, and some of those instincts thankfully carried over into my own writing. But not all of them. That's where the Internet came in, and I swear, I must have read EVERY SINGLE how-to and advice article on the web that year. I went crazy!

    As for why the instincts of yore were better than today? Classical authors smoked a lot of pot.

  7. LOL! Amanda, I nearly sprayed my drink over the screen. I didn't expect your answer.
    My head is overloaded with information right now, but I still keep on reading the advice and learn something new every day, I'm expecting my head to explode any time.

  8. Me neither. :]
    I actually looked online if that was true or not, but I couldn't find anything.

  9. I laughed when I read this post because I was right there, too! I think writing is a learning process. You wouldn't expect a classical piano player to just 'know' how to play. I think the same holds true for writers.

  10. My head wants to explode with all the advice I have read/been given over the past three years but I still go in search of it. It's a nagging need just to read one more bit, then another - as if by doing so I might find the magic key that will rid me of my show not tell and overuse of adverbs. But deep down I know it won't, it's awareness, sticking my butt in the chair and practice that will do that :(

    Hope to see you at the conference.

  11. Hi Rachael!! I've got an overdose of information right now too. Please share the magic key if you find it. And yes, see you in July.

    Talli, I'll practice the writing, but the editing is so boooring.


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