If you’ve decided to take the creative path and write, it can be difficult to know how to make a start. Here’s the first instalment of a two-parter to get you off the ground.
1. Be yourself
This is the foundation from which you’ll grow and nurture your creative practice. The reason why people want to read a writer is that their voice is unique: the topic they’re dealing with might have been done a million times before, but it’s the way they write about it that’s different and makes people want to follow their words.
So, find your voice. Understand from the outset that the mould’s already been broken by the authors you might be looking to emulate. Forget trying to be the next Orwell or Hemingway, because they’ve already been there, got the T-shirt and received international acclaim for it.
Plough your own furrow – it’ll be far more rewarding in the long run.
2. Practice makes perfect
This is about getting – and keeping – going. At first, just give yourself permission to play: write small pieces, fragments, get anything down that you want to write about or feel at the time. The topic doesn’t matter, and the piece doesn’t have to be pristine or fully formed. This is just about getting your creative juices flowing and yourself into the habit of writing.
Give yourself permission to play
I will freely admit that I’m not very keen on the regime advocated by books such as The Artist’s Way, which stem from Dorothea Brande’s seminal 1930s writing bible, Becoming a Writer. Committing to a fixed time every morning when you must produce x pages, or sit down to write for x minutes, might work for some as an exercise, but not everyone.
Modern life isn’t always conducive to rigid routine, and I can confirm that my own creative temperament isn’t conducive to being regimented like that. I observe regular hours to meet my professional obligations, and deadlines come first, so I write creatively when I want – and that suits me just fine.
Having said that, do make time to write: it could be a few paragraphs squeezed in after the school run and before the rest of your day, or getting up half an hour earlier to put hand to keyboard. Maybe you can write longhand or tap away at your laptop in a quiet carriage on your commute to work.
Don’t agonise – just do it
Perhaps you’re a night owl and feel more energised in the evening, or more open to creative flow on weekends.
Don’t agonise over how or when you write – just do it. You’ll see quick results and sow the seed for even more creativity to come forth which, when you start to feel it, can be a real boost.
3. Read all about it
There are acres of books and resources out there that will guide you in pretty much any writing form you want. While I think they’re incredibly useful, sometimes they can be daunting to the new writer because they’re quite technical.
If you aren’t conversant with the art of literature or the techniques and discipline of journalism, tackling a book on how to plot a novel or pitch that long investigative article to a broadsheet isn’t necessarily the best place to start.
I’m a firm believer that it’s important to listen to yourself first: tap into your own inner process, get writing, then seek out the learning you need to craft your work. Then you’re in a good position to select your medium.
Experience writers in different media
Part of this process is to read other writers – as many as you can. Look at their language and style. Ask yourself what you like or dislike about it, and why.
Be eclectic: try to experience lots of different writers in different media, so you can see what they do and how they do it.
My own favourite literary source is F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose command of language, psychological insight and storytelling has remained with me since I picked up Tender Is the Night as a youngster. I always revisit Fitzgerald, a preternaturally gifted author, to find what I need: everything I want to know is all there, right on the page.
4. Go exploring
“Throw off the bowlines … Catch the tradewinds. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
A willingness to experience some spirit of internal adventure is a fundamental aspect of writing, but you don’t necessarily have to “sail away from the safe harbor”, as Twain suggests – at least not at the outset. Writing is a personal voyage, but taking baby steps towards your artistic destination is absolutely fine.
Being open to inspiration, willing to try new things, is all grist to the creative mill. One of the easiest ways you can do it is to start a blog.
At a Guardian masterclass on feature writing I attended, we were advised by a magazine editor that every writer should have a blog. It’s a great place to explore story ideas and test out your writing.
Every writer should blog
Short pieces such as blog posts aren’t taxing to put together timewise, but they can actually take more skill to produce than longform because there is less space to cover your topic.
Short form is excellent training because it encourages you to really hone your text, to look at what is or isn’t working.
What blog posts should not be is unfocused mind-spill. (Only the Beats did stream of consciousness well, and even then it isn’t always that digestible.)
The key is to be prepared. Always carry a notebook or dictaphone with you for whenever you want to record any thoughts. Use apps like Evernote to get down anything that catches your eye. Make sure you do it at the time – ideas are best captured when they’re fresh. Then, you can expand and test them out later.
The next four will follow soon. Stay tuned, and get writing!
I’m an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, and work with authors to achieve clear, engaging writing.
For more about me and my work, visit lisacordaro.com