It's been said that best advice any aspiring writer should take on board is to ignore any advice they receive. Yes, I too appreciate the irony of that sentence but it hits the nail on the head perfectly.
In case you haven't read my previous blog entries (if you haven't, you should they're amazing. Don't believe me? Better read them to find out!) I am a fully fledged assurance seeker when it comes to writing... and a lot of other areas in my life but that's for another blog. Anyway, assurance seeking is one of the many, many personality traits that I've partly tried to challenge and partly tried to accept.
Basically put, I'm a bit needy when it comes to writing. Is this good enough? Who will read this? Will someone laugh at this part? Is that character believable? Is that dialogue too artificial? Will the reader like it?Will the reader like me?
Yes I know, I sound like that awful, whiny, been-single-for-ages, desperate friend that we all know (except if any single friends of mine are reading this - I'm not talking about you). I constantly doubt myself, compare myself negatively to other writers and essentially tell myself I'm not good enough on a regular basis, which as you've probably guessed, doesn't add up to a great writing career.
Because I am such a habitual doubter, I find it difficult to trust my judgement and make concrete decisions about the book. And guess what? I've just discovered that this is not a good strategy for someone writing a complex, alternative world trilogy series.
My survival mantra for writing this book has been to say "Ah, sure I'll solve that problem later" or "I'll come up with a solution to that when I'm editing" etc... And there's been two reasons for said mantra: partly because I'm too indecisive to actually knuckle down and decide what happens in my book and partly because all the writing manuals/books/tutorials have told me that I shouldn't plan, I should write. All the great writers have said that they don't plan, they write and the words facilitate the unraveling of the story.
18 months and 30,000 words later, it hasn't worked for me. And this is why I should NOT listen to any advice!
Thankfully, God works in mysterious ways and I decided on a whim (even though I never do anything on a whim!) to sign up for an evening writing course. It was my first proper writing course and the first time I met other aspiring writers who also feel they want more than the dull 9 to 5. (If my boss is reading this, the 9 to 5 is never dull! In fact, all play and no work makes Sinead a dull girl)
On the night that I presented my work (the outline of my novel) to the group I was delighted to receive praise from my peers. Hand on my heart, when some of them said that the book had a great concept and was the type of book they would eagerly choose in a bookshop, I could feel tears pricking in my eyes. Seriously. And yes, I know I am a cryer, but if anyone ever tells me that they think I'm a good social worker I usually just blush, laugh and change the subject. I definitely don't get emotional!
But that wasn't the best part. I will forever be indebted to the facilitator who gave me the best advice (ignore the first line!) I have ever received in my writing life so far.
She basically told me to stop writing. No, actually, she did more than that. She gave me permission to stop writing.
Now before I go any further, it wasn't like a "Jesus Christ, Sinead that is so awful, please put down the pen and don't ever come back here again" kind of thing. It was more like "Sinead, that's a great concept and a very complex idea, so you're going to have to stop your writing right now and specifically decide what it is that's going to happen in this book. You have to answer all your questions before you can ask them"
If you can picture me with a lightbulb going on over my head, that's pretty much what I looked like.
Of course! My book is partly set in a different world, it has two potential sequels and a complex life or death plotline. I obviously need to plan it!
It was amazing how one little sentence has completely changed my view of my writing. Already, I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders because I knew all along that I needed to plan, I just didn't give myself permission to plan. I needed to hear it from someone else.
I know it's not a good way to be, I know I need to challenge myself on it and I have to start accepting my own inner voice. But it's early days and it's getting there. And I think by focusing completely on the plot and forcing myself to answer the questions that I've asked, I'm a lot closer to getting there.