Last month I bemoaned the narcissistic tendencies of writers, and why this means we can’t have nice things.
This month let me reverse the focus, so we can have the nice things. Here are 8 things writers need to be doing.
Stop trying to predict the next trend in literature or imitate the latest Harry Potter/Twilight/Game of Thrones/50 Shades of Blue Rinse. Popular fads in our culture are like pop music; in two years’ time you won’t be able to give a good reason why something was popular.
Those things that stand the test of time do so for a reason. That’s why we have English Literature classes.
Recognise your influences and use them to your advantage. Acknowledge the canon of literature in your genre, learn the tropes and archetypes, and study it fastidiously. Then apply your learnings; make something new from the old.
Writers are stereotyped as isolated and solitary beings. Break the pattern and work with someone on a project. Do it within your genre and outside of it, with another or a creative individual in a different discipline. You may find an area of interest you hadn’t considered.
Here are four ideas to get you started:
- gather twelve people (preferably in your genre, or for a different challenge, select participants with different generic tastes). Set some parameters and create an anthology or novella, each participant contributing a chapter or two
- create two characters and have them write letters to one another
- find an illustrator and work on a comic strip or graphic novel
- find a writing partner and write a series of essays about a particular topic, with each person taking the opposite position. Eg Is there such a thing as a Muse?
It may be simply for fun (like the Post Marked: Piper’s Reach project Jodi and I have been working on) and posted to your blog, or you may look for publication.
If we do not pass on the information we learn from one generation to the next, our legacy and inheritance fades like cut flowers in a vase.
As writers, our aim should be to encourage new writers. It is not about being competitive but nurturing the essential artistic practices that constitute our culture. Provide guidance and mentorship to new artists. One way might be to set up a network to encourage new and emerging writers?
Start conversations with people; communication is the goal, not competition.
The world needs more artists, whether their reach is to five people or five million.
Go quietly about the noise. Spruikers shout from the street corner, standing on their stolen milk crate, yelling above the heads of the pedestrians. They attract adherents, and they shout together, but we have learned to tune out the white noise.
Instead, seek out the wise and learned for they have quieted themselves. And when they speak, we listen.
Go about your business of writing. Your writing should speak for you. Talk with friends about your progress; don’t shout it from the street corners.
Every writer should be a learner. Each new piece of work, from flash fiction to a multi-volume fantasy series, provides a new learning experience. If you have only ever written novels, write short stories. If you have only ever written flash fiction, write a novella. Each format has its advantages and disadvantages and knowing them will extend and ultimately improve your writing.
Learn as much as you can about the technical aspects of writing: grammar, point of view, dialogue, characterisation, setting and plot.
Why do we write? This is the most fundamental question a writer must answer. I believe the idea of story is why I write.
Story is the heart of community. Story is the shared history of a community. It binds, strengthens, admonishes, critiques, uncovers the truth, and questions.
As writers, we are sharing the story with our community. Let’s aim to tell the story in the best way we can.
Tell me a story and I’ll remember.
Language is a powerful tool and we would do well to revere the power of words. Delve into the history of language; absorb it like a sponge.
Let your characters delight in the words they use, even when they are ugly and hateful.
Words can seduce your reader into undressing, challenge them to take up arms or slap them in the face, breaking the fragile moistness of their lip causing blood to seep in between their teeth.
Never lose focus or passion for your current work in progress. You will have moments when you believe your laptop wishes to fly (and you secretly hope it transforms mid-air into Optimus Prime). Your characters can have a nice cup of tea while you have your little petulant frenzy, but get back to what you set out to do: write.
Writing is the means by which we speak to the world. It is our voice calling in the wilderness, telling parables, fables, myths and legends.
Leave a legacy, not a meme.