I’m in the process of writing some poetry that within the next month or so I would like to self-publish. I have already self-published a book of short stories, entitled Echoes, an endeavor that I thoroughly enjoyed. Having said that, I’m not close to being a renowned published author who has achieved any popularity whatsoever, and I most likely will never achieve such a status. So what I have to say about the writing life is rather personal, probably somewhat narrow, and not intended to be a statement based on expertise. In fact, quite opposite to all of that hoopla, I hope to encourage anyone who wants to write simply for the pleasure of it to not let the lack of popularity or notoriety prevent you from doing so. If you’re like me, such a thing may not even be your aim. Indeed, if you’re like most writers I have read who comment on their work, even well-known ones, such a thing was rarely their aim. From my perspective writing is difficult yet fun and fulfilling. And if you have the bug, push through your doubts, self-consciousness, and fears of sounding like a buffoon, and go after it. Along the way, I think the following tips can be helpful. I have gleaned these useful tidbits from reading others who write, so they are not original with me whatsoever.
Process over Product
Most likely we have have experienced somewhere along the way the onslaught of motivational speakers, dress-for-success encouragements, imagining-your-dream talks, and the power of positive thinking. Although I don’t want to rain on any of these parades, I have not approached the writing life through such venues; consequently, I would not encourage people to do so. But let me quickly add, such motivational callings and workshops have never appealed to me. I approach writing simply as an endeavor I want to try, and something I simply desire to do. I never viewed myself as possessing any innate talent, having something more grand to say than anyone else, and for sure never viewed myself as a natural. In fact, writing proved very difficult for me. As I look back on some of the earlier writing I did, it shows to be so sloppy and hackneyed that I’m embarrassed that I ever let anyone read it. So for those who want to pursue some personal goals in writing, I would first say, get into the process of writing. And don’t worry about having a finished product too quickly. I realized early on that when I said I wanted to be a writer, I was more enamored by the final goal of a finished piece than I was actually doing the work of writing. If you simply want to see your name of a book cover, I think you’ll find that such a goal will not work for you. For me personally, being a writer means enjoying writing rather than the final goal of a written piece. If you desire the product over the process of the work, I believe you’ll find that you complete your work too quickly, write sloppily, and do a poor job of checking your work. The more I began to write the short stories and poems I want to self-published, I found myself always pushing back the dates that I wanted to have them appear before the public. I just never feel like something is completely finished. Although such an attitude can prevent you from getting your work out, for the most part I think it’s a good thing that will keep you cautious and prevent you from presenting your work before its time. The writing life is about the work of writing rather than the goal of publishing.
It’s Not All Fun
Although the process of writing is enjoyable and fulfilling for the most part, there are times it is tedious. I fell into the funk just the other day of spending an inordinate amount of time on the finishing lines of a poem I’m writing. But was it really an inordinate amount of time? If I’m focused on the goal of finishing, I suppose it was. If I’m focused on writing the way I want to write, and experiencing that little click in my head that says, that’s it, then it’s not an inordinate amount of time at all. In fact, when it comes to time, I’m fairly certain there are no rules regarding good writing. I have found at times that a poem or a short story will write itself as some people have stated. Yet for me, that’s a rarity. Most of the time I get into a good start on something, and then I hit the proverbial wall. For me personally, the process of writing involves slowly chipping through that wall. Simply put, at times it can feel like a frustrating task when you realize that you have spent four hours on a half page of a short story or two lines of a poem. Yet in the process of writing, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Whether or not anyone else likes what I write, I sure as hell want to like what I write. The most important thing is not to let such slow progress discourage you. To be sure, there are those other times that I have sensed that I’ve been working on a piece for about thirty to forty-five minutes, looked up at the clock, and three or four hours have gone by somewhere. That’s when it’s fun. But get used to the idea that such flow doesn’t occur all the time.
Write . . . Write . . . Write
The process of writing involves just that – writing. I think a good goal is to get something down on paper or the computer screen everyday. Even if you don’t like what you write at first, get it down so that you can rework it. You may find as well that you will chuck every word of it into the trashcan. That’s not a loss; it’s progress. You have discovered what you don’t want, what doesn’t sound good to you, and what doesn’t work personally for you. You might also discover that certain times of the day are better for you to write than others. I tend to like early mornings or late nights when things are quiet and interruptions few. Find your sanctuary in terms of time and place and preserve it for yourself. Don’t answer the phone (it’s probably a telemarketer anyway), don’t check email, and for heaven’s sake, keep the TV and radio OFF. And then go to it: write . . . write . . . write. Work it, rework it, hone it, cut it, chuck what you don’t like, and bring that baby to life in its own time. Remember the process and don’t rush it. And all your work belongs to you; nobody else owns it, only you. At least that’s the case for the time being.
Read , . . Read . . . Read
I’m not sure every writer would agree with this tidbit of info. But every writer I’ve read tends to say this. It for sure works for me. If you’re going to write short stories, read as many short stories as you can get your hands on. The same goes for novels and poetry. I mentioned that soon I want to self-publish some poetry. For the last couple of years, I have immersed myself in reading poetry, from the ancients to the moderns. I found that it is important for me to recognize in my reading what I really like, what strikes me and stays with me, and what moves me on an emotional level. Trying to figure out why certain literature strikes me in certain way proves to be allusive most of the time. All I can say is that, I like the way it’s written. Regarding poetry, I might simply say, I like the way it sounds, the way it looks on a page in terms of form, or the way the author uses words. If you want to try your hand at essays, read various collections of essays published across the decades. You may want to try your hand at screenplays or story plots that provide a basis for a screenplay. There are easy and inexpensive ways to obtain books of completed screenplays and story plots. Read them, learn how they are structured, and how they are submitted. Writing is a craft. It is about using words as a tool to communicate ideas and emotions, describe scenes, depict what the eye and the mind experience. Read those who have done it well. Find those authors you personally like, not just the ones your told to like. But also push yourself to read those authors and kinds of writing that you might not easily gravitate toward. Experience all the varieties of writing you can discover and wrap your mind around as much of it as you can.
In addition to reading the various literary forms, read those writers who discuss their craft, those who share their thoughts on their work. I thoroughly enjoy reading a writer who discusses her or his approach to the writing life. There are many ideas to glean from such discussions, and you might find that such thoughts spur your own creative juices. Authors also tend to write books on the craft of writing. Mary Oliver’s, Rules of the Dance and A Poetry Handbook are excellent works on the craft of poetry. I chose those two works because I thoroughly enjoy the poetry of Mary Oliver. Works such as Hemingway on Writing can be useful as well. Writers on writing are excellent sources of ideas and insights into the creative process.
I would also suggest that anyone interested in writing subscribe to a magazine that focuses on the craft of writing. There are numerous publications out there. I personally enjoy The Writer’s Digest. Go to your local bookstore, explore the magazine racks, and find the ones that highlight the craft of writing. Become a voracious reader.
Find a Trusted Eye
I stated above that when you create a piece and bring it to fruition, it is yours and belongs to no one else. Although I stand by that statement, it is likewise true, that once your work is in the public eye, on a certain level, it belongs to readers as well. I think it is extremely important to find at least one person – and it may prove to be just one person – who can read and edit your work for typographical errors that your eye just simply does not catch because you’re so used to knowing what is supposed to be on the page. That same person can edit your as well for clarity and provide input on the clarity of your writing, helping you understand if you are actually saying what you want to say. With the last bit of input, however, I would emphatically state that you have the final word on what you want to say, whether an editor likes it or not. There are some things by which you have to trust your will and gut. For those you ask to read your material, make sure they are trustworthy, and that they are not someone who simply likes to tear things down. Avoid those who fancy themselves as literary critics, and it’s probably a good idea, as well, to avoid literature professors. (My personal apologies to all those profs who work hard teaching literature, and ones from which I benefited in pursuing my master’s degree in lit. But you know who you are out there!). Those who teach creative writing, however, are a good source for feedback.
I think it’s a good idea, as well, to join reading and writing groups to obtain feedback on your work. Likewise, attend writing workshops, knowing that some will be more informative than others. Anything that allows you to obtain feedback, to practice your writing more, and help you gain confidence, not in what others want, but in what you want, is worthwhile.
Most people who like to write will find any avenue they can to practice their writing and get their wares out for the purpose of feedback. Obviously, one of the ways I have as an outlet is this blog. Writing blogs are simple to create, and those who utilize them can place their writings before the public eye on a consistent basis. It is a quick and easy way to obtain feedback from others on your writing. If you work in a professional field, you can also submit written essays and articles to professional journals, which allows you to experience a different genre of writing. For all those who want to write for personal reasons, know that you’re not alone when at times you’re flooded with doubts and thoughts such as, I’m not a writer; who am I fooling? For sure you will not be a writer if you don’t sit down and write. And you may not be a writer if your standard is to have sales that bring you a huge income, recognition that heaps upon you the Poet Laureate, the Pulitzer, and eventually the Nobel Prize in Literature. But if you want to write and think that you might enjoy the process of writing more than the finished product, then, by all means, write. Through the process of writing, finished products will emerge. And I would be lying if I didn’t say that I like it when I receive feedback from readers that they enjoyed what I’ve written. Doubts and fears may come true. They will for sure be true if you don’t take the risk to write. I say all this as one who is not a recognized writer, will most likely never become a well-known writer, but one who thoroughly enjoys reading and writing. So good luck!!
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D./April 14, 2014