No. I’m not talking about what you think I’m talking about. But we love the use of an attention seeking header……
Being a writer comes with a variety of challenges. Not the least of which is finding someone to pay you for what you create. (Feel free to inbox).
The popular image of a writer is someone sitting holding a pen and paper, or at their laptop; effortlessly churning out brilliant prose. The genius flows, they send off a manuscript and boom. They’re the next Charlotte Bronte. Or Bryce Courtnay. Or Stephen King if you have that kind of bent.
In reality, there are so many kinds of writing and so many options for people in the field. A good writer can pen a novel and have a day job creating a newspaper column, web content for a clothing company or corporate policies. Writing talent is somewhat instinctive in many ways, and can be utilised in a variety of directions. However, you can’t just sit down and punch stuff out without time spent looking at a variety of factors that a publisher or day-to-day employer will require.
A major frustration can be word count if you are only provided with a certain amount of space. 1200 words means 1200 words. ‘Size matters’. Being naturally verbose I always go over… and then have to trim things back. It seems I have a lot to say. (Art imitates life).
When I was in Year Eleven, Thomas Keneally came to my school to give a lecture. We had been studying ‘The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith’ and he had kindly agreed to come and speak to us. This was exciting stuff for a book nerd. I was in the front row. Pen poised, spectacles glistening, waiting to be told how to be a famous novelist. Keneally was humorous, generous of spirit and very candid. He also gave an unexpected answer to a question from one of our English teachers. The teacher asked him how he pitched and planned his novels prior to commencing the actual writing process. As someone who personally despised essay plans (and always constructed one after the actual essay was written … oops) … I keenly waited for the reply. To our teacher’s chagrin, Keneally smiled and said something along the lines of, “I don’t. I don’t know what will happen to the characters until I have met them and their story happens”. I thought this the most wonderful answer.
I had often sat down to write something (and still do) and wasn’t quite sure what would happen to the characters until I created them. I’d also wing it when it came to the narrative structure, tone and style of the writing until the whole thing began to take shape. Thomas was instantly my writing hero!!!! Alas for my teenage self, I hadn’t quite comprehended that Mr. Keneally was an extremely famous author and publishers would happily offer him a book deal without hammering him for the minute details. He wasn’t creating content to a brief. He was writing masterpieces on his own terms. A privilege he had most certainly earned over years of proving his worth as an impressive author.
For the less lauded of us, we need a plan. So : you have an idea for a fictional article or book. Who is the protagonist? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Who is the antagonist? What is the plot outline? What is the world in which the tale is set? What is the narrative structure? And horror of horrors….. how many words?
Although writing whatever comes into my head is still a favourite quirk, I have wisely learned to embrace a good story plan. Quite often something that sounds like genius in one’s brain does not translate seamlessly to paper. Better to iron out the kinks before you spend hours realising it’s not going to be the next ‘Rebecca’ or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. More pedestrian writing tasks than planning your life’s literary masterpiece also need orderly thought.
If you are asked to complete a job you should always stick to the brief. Tempting as it may be to channel Tolstoy whilst creating a corporate Code of Conduct, the mark of a good writer is being easily understood. Know your audience. Make sure they will comprehend and enjoy what you are telling them. Most of us aren’t Keneally; we don’t have an editor on hand to double check our work. Self editing needs to be the go before someone of importance sees your product. Check and re check. All spelling and grammar. Remove unnecessary wordiness and try to read what you have written with ‘fresh eyes’ several times. If you need to re read a sentence….. it’s not the correct way to impart that information. If you’re like me, you’ll need to reduce your word count to fit the job at hand, and trim back some of the padding.
I’m sure various people wish they could do that with me in real life. Starts out telling a story and an hour later she’s still going. Note to self. Must self-edit long, rambling conversations. 😉
‘Size’ does matter. Good planning is never wasted. Nothing is more satisfying than a positive response from a reader to something worthy that came from your pen. Whatever that creation may be.
The other satisfying thing about writing is some of it can happen in pyjamas with a glass of wine. Hiding inside your house with the heating on. A personal favourite. That’s a happy place, with or without an essay plan. 🙂