Tuesday, January 12, 2010
So, you want to be a writer...
So, you want to be a writer… some tips to get you started
I am often asked, "What's the one tip you can give me because I want to be a writer?" I wish there was just one magic tip or phrase or clue I could give, but there's not. There are many ideas that work for me, and others that work for other poets, and playwrights and literary writers. But generally, there are a couple of basic steps I can suggest to help you on your way…
1. START WRITING
My brother sent me a text message late one night saying he'd just written the first chapter of his first book. I was so excited for him.
"Can I read it?" I asked.
"I wrote it in the shower." He responded.
"How did you get the computer in the shower?"
"I wrote it in my head."
"No one can read a book that's in your head!"
The messaging ended.
The point is, if you want to be a writer, you must start writing, on paper, or on the computer or into a Dictaphone. But not in your head. You can't publish the book in your head.
Many of my students don't start writing because they are worried about grammar and spelling. But I'll tell you what I tell them. Don't worry in the first instance because in reality it doesn't matter if you are the best writer in the world, if you haven't got a STORY your grammar and spelling is irrelevant. So, 'just start writing the story' is the best tip I can give you. (Actually, HAVING a story is probably the first tip!)
2. READ WIDELY
You MUST read books if you ever intend writing one. You should read across genre, geography, gender, culture and age. Reading widely will expose you to different voices and styles and will help you develop your own style.
3. JOIN A WRITERS CENTRE
I hear so many writers talk about how they suffer the isolation of a writer's life. I find that weird. I don't 'suffer' anything of the kind. Perhaps that's because I like my own company. Seriously, if you want to be connected to other writers then you should join a writer's centre. In Australia there is at least one in every major city and in NSW we also have them in regional centres on the South Coast, Hunter Region and western NSW. Becoming a member of a writers centre will open up opportunities to attend workshops, become aware of awards, competitions and writers grants, and also join writers groups across genres and abilities. For a list of writers centres in Australia go to: Australian Society of Authors
If there isn't a writers' centre located in your area, why not create a writers' group yourself. I created one in Sydney and once a month for 12 months we met at the local library once a month. We did some creative writing exercises, shared some of our writing with each other, and on occasion we had well-known Australian authors come and share their writing experiences with us. They included Rosie Scott (novelist), Jeff McMullen (non-fiction writer and journalist), Pearlie McNeill (autobioprapher), Romaine Moreton (performance poet) and Janet Hutchinson (editor). The group doesn't exist now but we are all still writing.
Established writers and those serious about writing, should join the Australian Society of Authors, which is the peak professional association for Australia's literary creators. ASA members are biographers, illustrators, academics, cartoonists, scientists, food and wine writers, children's writers, ghost writers, librettists, travel writers, romance writers, translators, computer programmers, journalists, poets and novelists.
The ASA sets basic rates and conditions for writers, offers a contract advisory service, runs mentorship programs, publishes resources on writing and publishing, and lobbies the government to protect the rights of Australian writers. The ASA set up the Copyright Agency Ltd which distributes monies to writers who's works are photocopied. The ASA also lobbied the government for Educational Lending Rights and Public Lending Rights, which are schemes designed to compensate authors for books borrowed from libraries as opposed to being bought.
For more information go to: Australian Society of Authors
4. WRITING BUDDY
I have a writing buddy. We meet at the food court of the local Westfield Shopping Centre, or down the beach, or at the library. We order a coffee have a quick yarn and then write. We used to do it fortnightly for just an hour. It's about routine, like going for a walk every morning with a friend. How committed are you to getting fit, or in this case, to practicing your craft?
5. MAKE LISTS
I'm constantly making lists of what I want to write about and everything related to the topic. I write questions to myself that I think someone might ask me about a character or setting. And of course I don't need to tell you to have a pen and notepad with you at all times for those inane observations you will make on the bus, in the doctor's waiting room, in line at the bank and so on. Because writers are born and obsessive observers.
If you're working within the genre of Indigenous literature I recommend reading the Australia Council protocols - Writing Cultures: producing Indigenous literature- which is downloadable from the Australia Council for the Arts
There are also guides for song, visual arts, performance and new media.
7. RESOURCES for WRITERS
Do you have proper shoes for running, or for playing sports? Do you have goggles for swimming and so on? Well, books on writing are like the shoes for running. You need to invest in some support for your craft. What will make you run / write better?
The Writing Book by Kate Grenville (Allen & Unwin, 1998)
"This is a how to write book without a single "rule" about writing. Rather than giving abstract advice about how to write, the book takes you step-by-step through the actual process. It begins with many ideas for getting started, works through how these starts can be structured towards a story, and then shows how character, point of view, dialogue etc can build a sketchy early draft into a rich piece of fiction.
Each chapter covers an aspect of fiction - character, point of view, etc - and has three parts:
1. An overview of the aspect being explored
2. Short excerpts from published fiction to show the wide range of approaches open to a writer
3. Exercises that build progressively on each other. The task of each exercise is quite specific and designed to let the writer always work from the basis of what they already know.
The Writing Book starts with the belief that each of us has a unique and valuable voice that can be heard - but only if we can find ways to allow it to speak." (From Kate Grenville's website
* Another book I use a lot is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way: a course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self. This is a book I can pick and do an exercise in just to get the creative juices flowing.
* You might also want to check out Aboriginal Studies Press' Information Kit for Indigenous Authors which is downloadable from: Aboriginal Studies Press
8. THINK ABOUT WHY YOU WANT TO WRITE
Considering why you want to write and for whom you are writing should inspire you to write more consistently and passionately. For me I look at the benefits to telling the stories I do, whether they are about the Stolen Generations or life as an urban Koori woman living in Sydney. Either way, if I consider the four key benefits of writing for me, then I am motivated to create.
1. Reaching audiences around the world and educating them on Aboriginal issues / rights
2. Giving Aboriginal kids books to read
3. Providing curriculum materials for all ages – primary to tertiary
4. Breaking down stereotypes about Aboriginal Australians in the 21st century
9. LOVE WHAT YOU DO
Of course, at the end of the day I LOVE writing, so it is also about doing something that brings me joy. I thrive on writing creatively, I work well to deadlines, and I function quite capably alone for hours and hours and hours on end – which is what the writing life is like. The more you love what you do, the better you will be at it – well that's my story and I'm sticking to it!
PS A copy editor is also a good thing to have around. I don't so I apologise for any typos…
PPS Today's pic by Wayne Quilliam taken at the MWF, 2008