The Gentle Art of Writing

I did a count up yesterday. I put my first ebook up on Amazon on Sept 9th, so yesterday was 91 days or three months. All three books combined, on all sites, have been downloaded 2872 times. I can’t say ‘sold’ because the vast majority are free. Average of 31.5 downloads a day, I do wish I knew who downloaded half a book a day! (Just kidding). I have no idea whether that’s a good start, but I am satisfied with it.

Writing is a funny thing. There seems to be a ‘writing gene’ that surfaces in our extended family. In every generation some do, most don’t. I’ve taught creative writing in the past and you can teach skills/craft/attitude, but you can’t teach the gift. People either paint pictures with words or they don’t. You can give them exercises to improve their creativity but you can’t make them creative.

My first memory of writing a story was something about a Russian princess when I was 8. It was in a large exercise book and written in pencil. Her name was Tatiana and she wore huge fur coats and rode through the snow in a troika pulled by horses. I had never seen snow at the time.

When I was 21 I wrote a novel called “Sweet Melody” about smuggling diamonds in hollow polo sticks and had a ‘Jilly Cooper’ type hero. When I was 28 I wrote a novel called “The Summer of Our Discontent” about identical twin brothers in the New Zealand cricket team, one good and one not so good, about smuggling diamonds in hollow handled cricket bats, kidnapping and a hired killer who was going to assassinate the bad brother using a modified umbrella gun. They swapped identities at the end and the wrong one was shot. Still putting every plot I could thing of in, then.

Over the years I wrote extensively in my professional career and my writing improved. I gave up on the idea of smuggling precious stones in any sort of sports gear and concentrated on writing short stories until the right idea for a novel came along. Having worked as a radio copywriter, I learned to sell a concept in 72 words and I learned how to ‘milk’ the theatre of the mind. Seriously, if you want to practice your writing craft, try writing commercials. You learn the power of every word and you learn to paint vivid word pictures. Try writing a 30′ commercial for a ‘massage parlour’ (in the days when they couldn’t be open about what they were) without any double entendre….

Then I found a magazine article about a missing violin and the rest, pardon the pun, is history. But the frustration continued because, eventually, I wanted to try to get it published. I sent the manuscript to publishers and agents and I got encouraging replies. Many said they thought long and hard and were impressed by the quality. I got so many ‘you write beautifully’ or ‘you certainly can write’ and you just knew there was a “BUT” coming. It is SO risky for publishers to take a risk with a completely unknown writer and you end up in a classic catch-22 situation. One suggested I put it in the bottom drawer and write a “Jilly Cooper” style book about the modern music scene.

And then along came Amazon! Self-publishing through ebooks seems to have gained so much credibility now it has become mainstream. I met someone the other day who writes biographies of New Zealand sports personalities and histories of some of our best loved institutions and has written a couple of novels as well. He said it is gratifying to do them, but they don’t sell. I suggested putting them on Amazon and Smashwords as ebooks. He frowned and said, “oh that’s all far too technical for my publisher.” Hmmm….

We had a LOVELY dinner last night with family, tasty lamb, fresh from the garden veges, gorgeous Pinot Noir and a magnificent fruit salad (even if I say so myself) with huge luscious strawberries, fresh blueberries, fresh mango, tinned lychees, fresh pawpaw…French vanilla ice-cream and hot chocolate sauce. Food, cooked with love, for people we don’t see often and miss very much.

Today’s writing tips come from graphic novel genius Neil Gaiman:

1. Write.

2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

7. Laugh at your own jokes.

8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Writer Jobs
    Dec 10, 2011 @ 10:31:25

    Great post thanks. I really enjoyed it very much. You have a great blog here.

    Love writing? We would love for you to join us!

    Writers Wanted


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: