A few things you learn from writing


One idea does not a plot make: You have a brilliant idea for a story. You can picture the opening scene, the characters, the scenario. You start writing, and the words are coming so fast you can barely get them down on the page quickly enough to keep up with your thought processes. It’s the most brilliant bit of writing you’ve ever done. By the end of day one, you’ve written twice the number of words you’d usually manage. But when you come back to the story the next day, you find your fingertips poised over the keyboard. You don’t know what to write anymore. What’s happened? You’ve run out of plot. Your main character is standing there blinking at you, saying “Now what?” and you don’t know the answer. This is why your files are filled with brilliant beginnings which you always intend to go back and finish someday.

All the best writing happens in your head in the dark of night: You’re just about to drop off to sleep. An idea for a brilliant story pops into your head. You know you should sit up, grab a pen and jot it down, but you’ll wake your spouse, and in any case, it’s such a good idea, you’re positive you’ll remember it. In your head, you write the opening sentences. They are a work of genius. You run through them over and over before drifting off to sleep. Morning comes, you reach for your notebook. Pen poised, you try to recall those amazing phrases. You can’t quite get the exact wording but you start to write anyway. You re-read what you’ve written. The words are lifeless and dull, the descriptions clichéd, the dialogue stilted. Where did all the good stuff go?

Check, check and check again. Then read it aloud: You’ve written a brilliant story for your local writers’ group. It’s taken you by surprise because it’s not your usual genre. Weirdly, it would be just perfect for a story competition you’ve heard about, but the deadline is today. You’ve read through it over and over, tinkering with the odd phrase, changing the odd word here and there. You’ve corrected all the silly typos, double checked all the funny underlining in red or green where Word has objected to your spelling or grammar. You send it off to the competition. Later you head to writers’ group, clutching a copy of your story. When it’s your turn to read, you step up proudly, ready to share your masterpiece. You start reading, and find yourself stumbling through the paragraphs, falling over the odd clunky bit of phrasing, noticing the jarring of the same word used twice in two consecutive lines. Then horror of horrors, someone says, “shouldn’t that say ‘your’ not ‘you’ in line seventeen?” Argh!

A watched Inbox only ever fills with spam: You’ve reached the exciting point where your story is ready for submission. You re-check it for the kazillionth time, compose your engaging-yet-suitably-brief covering letter, write out the SAE which you hope never to set eyes on again, and pop it in the post. Then you sit back and wait for an answer. And you wait. And you wait a bit more. After weeks, nay, months, you wonder if you ought to send a follow up email. But you don’t want to antagonise an already busy editor who might just decide to wack your story back in the post to you, wishing you much luck placing it elsewhere… You chew your nails down to nothing. You give up running to the door to snatch up the post in the mornings. Then joy of joys, you get an acceptance. Now you have another wait to see the final story in print…!

There are plenty of fish in the sea: When you first start writing, you nervously show your stuff to friends and family. They think it’s all a bit odd, wanting to be a writer, but they’re on your side, they’re supportive.  You get a bit braver and join a local writers’ group, and in your tiny pool of fellow scribblers, you aren’t bad. Braver still, you swim off to join a writing course, where you’re surrounded by lots of much bigger, extremely talented, fish. You begin to submit your stories for publication. You realise how many magazines, websites, clubs, schemes and organisations there are devoted to writing. You marvel at the number of submissions Fiction Editors all over the country receive every single day. In bookshops, you are daunted by the sheer number of novels on the shelves and the number of authors who’ve written them. You can’t imagine ever being like them. And then you get a story accepted. So what that you’re a tiny fish? You’ve every right to join the shoal. And the other thing you’ve discovered, all the other fish – even some of the really big ones – are friendly, helpful and supportive. It’s enormous, the writing sea, and yes, you’re a tiny fish, one of millions, but you just have to keep swimming.   🙂


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