Sunday, 22 November 2009

Doing what comes naturally

I've just been reading Samantha's excellent post over at Strictly Writing ( ) giving her Top Writing Tips. It set me to thinking about how often I've been asked, when giving talks to writers' groups etc, for tips and advice. Of course, we all have our favourite tips: I often tell would-be writers, for instance, that the best advice is just to make a start! - as so many people tell me they'll become a writer at some imagined point in the future - when the kids start school, or when they retire, etc - and I really wonder whether they ever will, if they're not motivated enough to get started right now!

But I often also repeat a quote I've seen, by Somerset Maugham, who said: 'There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are."!

I love writers' magazines, books about writing, forums inhabited by writers, etc - and over the years, I've gleaned some wonderful advice from all of them. Just as you're never too old to learn, you're also never too experienced or successful to find out more about the inexhaustible topic of writing for publication. Not that I'm particularly succesful! - but I have been going at it for a long time - and yet I read Jane Wenham Jones' 'Wannabee a Writer' earlier this year, and found loads of helpful advice in it - presented in an easy-to-read and amusing way.

But as Samantha points out in her post, we all need to be able to filter the massive amount of advice we read, to take on board the bits that apply to us (and which work for us), and ignore the rest. Sometimes that's difficult when it seems that all the so-called 'experts' out there are saying stuff that seems to go against what comes naturally to you.

For instance, I don't think anyone would disagree that when you're fitting in your writing around a full-time job, you just have to write whenever you have the time and the energy - but it seems that once you're a full-time writer, almost everyone advises you to work to a routine. I have to keep reminding myself not to feel guilty or to feel like I'm not a 'proper writer' for completely ignoring this advice! It just doesn't suit me - since not having a day job, I like to be flexible and write at whatever time I feel inclined on different days.

I'm giving a talk at a Rotary Club this week and I've no doubt I'll give out some of my so-called pearls of wisdom about becoming a writer! - it's what people usually want to hear. But since reading Samantha's post and mulling all this over, I'll definitely also add the caveat that my tips might have worked for me - don't necessarily expect them to work for you. Writing isn't an exact science, where you can learn the 'rules' like a maths lesson (God forbid!) and expect to get 10 out of 10 or a gold star (showing my age, there!) for getting them all right. So if you like using adverbs, for instance, or you think you might be doing a bit of Telling instead of Showing - but it seems to work, and feels right - don't beat yourself up. Trust yourself to break or bend a rule or two and see what happens!


  1. One of my favourite quotations is "Trust yourself, you know more than you think." Thats probably a paraphrase of what Dr (not Mr) Spock said (hope I've got that the right way round) but you know what I mean. We are all different people and should trust ourselves to know what works for us, be it style, timing or whatever. I never beat myself up about writing and I'm glad to hear that you don't either Olivia.
    PS Hope this posts okay - I may have sent it twice.

  2. Only got it once, Colette! I SO agree with that quotation. I think, as writers, we tend to doubt ourselves so much - it must come from all the rejections we inevitably get! - and we do all need to trust ourselves more. Thanks for reminding me!

  3. Great post, Olivia and I hope your talk to the Rotary club goes well.

    Julie xx

  4. Thanks, Julie. It's an all-male club which will be strange for me doing the talk, but we (me & the other half) are invited for dinner with them first! Will let you know how it goes! x

  5. Olivia

    You've raised an interesting point here. I think routines work for some, but not all. I like to think of myself as a 'morning person' because I seem to write more/better at that time of day. But I can't imagine locking myself into morning-only slots. More often than not, I'm battling on late in the evening, bleary eyed and tired. It seems as though the creative process doesn't have a clock.

    Good luck with talk at the Rotary Club.

  6. Thanks for the kind comment, Olivia.

    I wish someone could tell me what those three rules are!

    One piece of advice i do feel is justified though, regarding 'the rules', is that you should learn them in order to know how to break them.

    Eg show not tell, keeping to POV, not over-using adverbs etc etc
    Eg, knowing that i supposedly shouldn't use too many adverbs, doesn't stop me using them, but does make me think carefully about each one i use.

    Good luck with your talk.

  7. Thanks Martin! Of course, I'm not saying that it's wrong to work to any particular routine -most people seem to be either 'morning' workers or not, and whatever works best for the individual is obviously best. I'm probably best in the afternoons, after doing whatever other 'things' need doing! But I just prefer to see how each day pans out - I'm probably still reacting against my years in the day job!

    And Samantha, you are absolutely right. If I'd never heard about Show Don't Tell, or not using too many adverbs, I'm sure I'd be even worse than I am at breaking both of those very sound pieces of advice! All these rules are meant to help us, and do. We just need to know how rigidly to apply them - and knowing that, is not easy. If it were easy, we'd all be bestsellers! (I wish!) xx

  8. I agree there's no real formulae that works for everyone. I'm a morning person but have often written good stuff at night (who doesn't have other "life" stuff to fit in?)I think it's really important to trust yourself - we often don't and I'm sure you're right: it's a result of all those dreaded Rs! But hey - what do they know?

  9. You're right, Lydia. We're all different and we do need to trust our instincts. But I think most writers have a streak of insecurity and it doesn't take much to make us question ourselves! x