Sunday, 4 January 2009

Resolutions for the Aspiring Writer

Once more, it’s time to take stock of the past twelve months and work out how to make the next year count – in terms of being more productive, more happy or, like me, by finally understanding that five-a-day doesn’t apply to units of Chardonnay or mini Twix bars. It’s that time of year when we writers resolve once again to… Simply improve? To network on the, er, Net? To get to grips with the position of the apostrophe after a name ending in S?
Well that’s all well and good and bravo to anyone who hopes to achieve the above. What you don’t want to do is make the resolution I have written down every year, since embarking on my quest for literary success:

THIS YEAR I SHALL GET PUBLISHED.

I suspect at this point some of you are cringing – but don’t. It’s an obvious goal for a writer, just like a forty-year chain-smoker resolving to give up the fags. Only a stash of rejection letters will make you realize such grand declarations are pointless and a bit like me resolving to be the next Bond girl à la Ursula Andress. Even if I spent the next six months in the gym, got the obligatory boob job and pumped my face full of Botox, I would still need to kidnap Barbara Broccoli, hold her to ransom and only then might I be in line for an audition (failing a prison sentence). Resolving to get your book published in one year is like wishing yourself to the top of Mount Everest before you’ve planned your trek. Without wings, there is no quick way up – the only way is to take it step by step.
And what a trek it is. Finishing your first ever chapter and eventually your first draft, learning how to edit, striving to create empathetic characters and produce a page-turner of a plot. And then there's coping with rejection, learning to accept critical help and bracing yourself to abandon a much-loved project. In this era of reality shows where apparent nobodies win huge talent contests, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these winners have usually spent years learning their craft.
So what should the writer in you resolve to accomplish in 2009?

1) Firstly and most importantly, find some writing friends on the internet – join an online writing group, get some constructive feedback from people who know what they’re talking about. Without the support, inspiration and humour of my virtual friends I would probably still be scratching my head, wondering why my fantastic prose hadn’t resulted in the equivalent of JK Rowling’s success.

2) Read in and out of your genre to learn how it’s done – or how it’s not. But do not mimic or aspire to write like another, I say, as someone who for a year or two wished herself to be the next Sophie Kinsella. In the words of Agatha Christie:

We are all the same people as we were at three, six, ten or twenty years old. More noticeably so, perhaps, at six or seven, because we were not pretending so much then, whereas at twenty we put on a show of being someone else, of being in the mode of the moment… As life goes on, however, it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself every day…
I wonder if the same holds good for writing. Certainly, when you begin to write, you are usually in the throes of admiration for some writer, and, whether you will or no, you cannot help copying their style. Often it is not a style that suits you, and so you write badly. But as time goes on you are less influenced by admiration. You still admire certain writers, you may even wish you could write like them, but you know quite well that you can’t… I have learned that I am ME, that I can do things that, as one might put it, ME can do, but I cannot do things that ME would like to do.


3) Develop a thick skin – we’re talking rhinoceros hide at least. Release and then mop up the tears whilst savouring each word of a rejection letter that isn’t standard. You are in good company as almost every author from George Orwell to Dr Seuss has felt your pain. Do your best to minimise the risk by researching your agents and selectively subbing.

4) Write and write and write, as frequently as you can. Practice is everything. Enhance with How-to books and creative writing courses if desired.

And finally…

5) Never lose hope. There are those who’ve been published with their first book, who’ve been taken on by the first agent they rang, who’ve rarely faced the lows of writer’s block. And remember, the main difference between a published and unpublished author is that the published one NEVER gave up.

As for me, I’m off to Google Barbara Broccoli’s address and do some press-ups…

32 comments:

Geraldine Ryan said...

Great post, Sam! I really like what Agatha Christie has to say. When you find your voice as a writer it's the best thing ever!

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Thanks, Geri! Yes, her words are so true, aren't they? I think part of the process is accepting what you are and are not able to achieve - whilst at the same time, constantly trying to up your game.

x

emmadarwin said...

Love the Agatha Christie quote - and it's so very true. I remember having such a strong sense of 'coming home' when I first started writing historical bits into my early efforts, and I'm sure it was because I'd finally stumbled on my real self.

As my singer sister says, to succeed you need to be better than anyone else, and the only kind of singing you can do better than anyone else is your own kind of singing.

And best of luck to all with the blog.

Anonymous said...

Lovely blog, Sam. I'm adding it to my favourites! The Agatha Christie quote is so RIGHT. We all need to find our own voice - and it's a wonderful moment when we do.

Good luck with this, all of you guys - I'll be cheering from the sidelines.

Dee

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Thanks Emma - and your sister is spot on, we'd do well to remind ourselves of that every now and again.

Thanks too, Dee:)

x

Nik's Blog said...

Good quote, good post. Welcome to blogland!

Nik

CarolineG said...

Darn fine first post, Sam!
Wise words, and ones I'm going to heed this year...

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Thanks for your patience answering my questions about blogging, Nik!

Thanks Caroline - yep, me too. Must read more this year.

x

Anonymous said...

Great post Sam - congratulations!

Sarah

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Thanks and good to see you here, Sarah:)

x

Nik's Blog said...

Ha! Always a pleasure!

Nik

Emily said...

Great first post with free bonus cut-out-and-keep quote from Agatha. Looking forward to more.

Emily x

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Thanks, Emily!

x

Luisa said...

Great post! I loved the Agatha Christie quote too.

I'll be back!

Luisa
x

Gillian McDade said...

Fab first post Sam! I feel under pressure to perform (*takes deep breath*)

Champagne cork pops.....

rosyb said...

Great piece. I agree with it too. It's hard-going and yes, evolving into some kind of writerly rhinoceros with non-stick criticism tusks and inexhaustible endurance is great advice.

Good luck with this and I'll be linking away to you later. :):)

Caroline R said...

Fab post, Sam. I so agree with the advice not to give up.

Ooh, I'm nervous about my Wednesday post now! How can I follow this?!

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

I'm sure you'll easily manage, Caro:) Thanks for the compliment though:)

Thanks Gillian:)

And Rosy - yes, teflon tusks, definitely...

x

Rosy Thornton said...

Great blog, girls - and cracking first post, Sam. I wish you every success with this fabulous new venture!

Poppy said...

Great blog, Sam!!

Look forward to reading more,
Pxxx

Antonia said...

Good post. Love Agatha's words, too. Me will remember them!

Ali said...

Hi Sam,
I think the ME part of the Agatha Christie Quote applies to so much more than just writing.
And apart from the NEVER GIVE UP rule, yes there are writers likes the ones in your last paragraph - but we all hate them ;-)

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Thanks Rosy and Poppy.

And Antonia - Me too:)

x

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Agreed, Ali:)

x

womagwriter said...

Great post, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else appears on this blog in the weeks to come!

Good luck with all your writing endeavours, and you are so right about the Not Giving Up part.

bfs said...

Inspirational! I came here from Mad Mammy and am so glad to find you!

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Thanks Womagwriter and bfs - great to see you here!

x

Phillipa said...

Aha! It works. Welcome to blogland - abd thank you for reminding me that it's OK NOT to be someone else.

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Hi Phillipa!

Yes, it took me, ahem, a year or so to work that out:)

x

Liz said...

Sam, just to add my tuppence worth - welcome to blogging and enjoyed the post and quote.
I'll link you on my blog : )

Samantha Tonge - Admin said...

Thanks very much, Liz!
And i'll link you back...

:)

G said...

Glad to see I wasn't the only one in writing-resolution mode. Thanks for an inspiring post.