Who would be a writer is a question many of us ask, particularly in the wee small hours after the hundredth rewrite, when our characters are still not doing what they're supposed to!
Today's guest poster explores our need to write with wit and imagination.
Who would be a writer?
It’s a strange thing, wanting to write a book. Firstly, why do I want to write it? Why does anyone? It’s hard work. Not digging the roads or standing on your feet ten hours a day hard work, and not making life changing decisions or saving lives, but it’s hard work for all that. Dreaming, thinking , plotting, typing, editing, re-editing, writing to agents, writing to publishers. All to get ninety thousand words on a page and place it somewhere that people can hopefully buy your dream, with no guarantees. So why do it?
The answers are probably as numerous as the authors out there but they all boil down to want or need. I want to do it; I want to see if I can do it. I want to show everyone that I’m not just all talk, that I can actually string two words together and make people feel. Something. Happy, loving, afraid, soulful. Just something. I want to see if I have what it takes or if those people on the Man Booker shortlist are different somehow. Deep thinking creatures who wear black turtle-neck sweaters and smoke Gitane. The Jack Kerouacs and Hemingways of this world. People whose lives are so interesting that they have a story to tell. One that’s worth hearing. But everyone has a story. You have, I have. We may not have travelled or drank or slept our way around the world but we have all lived.
So what about need?
What type of need makes someone sit in an airless room for hours on end and stare at a screen alone? Grateful for any interruption to pull them away from the thousands of words that won’t appear. Is it some drive to tell their story, or any story? Dreams of fame and fortune and seeing their characters live on the big or small screen? Hearing their words read aloud at schools or on tape, or being a module on an English literature course when they’re dead? The need to put food on the table and the hope that writing will make that dream come true, except that it rarely does. So why does anyone want or need to write? Perhaps just because they do.
What to Write
The second question is, what shall I write? What do I have to say and what do I know? They always say you should write what you know, but doesn’t that stifle creation and remove imagination from the mix? How about ‘write what you know a little about and embellish on the rest’? Check the facts where there are some and let your mind create the story in between. Writing lets you make new worlds and have an adventure every day. It has to be fun, even when it’s pain. Otherwise why would anyone want to write?
Write what you like. Don’t write romance if you’re heartbroken, unless it’s therapy on a page. Don’t write about loss if you’re raw and hurt, wait until the stage of acceptance instead. Write what you like and makes you happy. Otherwise why would you sit down every day and try?
Plotting a Story
The third is, how can I plot? Some author friends are amazing with their timelines and character charts. Others are more free-wheeling, viewing a chapter like a journey with an unknown end. All the excitement of exploration and then checking back to see if it makes sense. Plot how you like. Plot however suits you. But plot.
Who Are My People?
Number four is, who are my people? Who do I want walking and running across my typed page? Is there one leading man or woman, or four? Do I give them detail or just form? Do I like them or love them or hate them? And do my allegiances change as they grow? Are they human and real and bad and good and weak and vulnerable and strong? Do I care about them? And if I don’t then how can I expect anyone who meets them to care?
The Business of Writing
Five is about the business. Why do some books rise and some books fall? Can I scale the obstacles to go for a contract or self-publish and hang them all? Can I take my editor’s nasty words without crying, and see them as helping to shape the way my words lie? And when my book is finally out there, can I take critical reviews without wanting to kill the reviewer?
Perhaps you don’t have to. After all, if you’re a crime-writer you can plot a nasty end for those reviewers in your next book. Maybe that’s why I want to write!
Have you ever murdered someone you dislike in a story? Tell us about it in the comments below - and share with your friends!