All the great writers – the published ones anyway – say it. There is only one thing you have to do to become a writer. And that’s write. I think it was Mary Heaton Vorse who said it most succinctly: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
And that’s because the minute you start writing, the letters don’t just form words. They form roads on a map. The map of your writing. Sometimes that map has clearly labelled place names and landmarks, and sometimes the writing just leads nowhere. Dead ends and cul de sacs. But they still make up the contours of your map. They still add depth and content. They are still part of the overall map of your writing expedition. Stephen King talks about developing your writing toolbox. I call it my rucksack; the things you need to survive a trek into the unknown of a blank page ….. energy supplies, emergency equipment and a really comfy pair of socks. But it is the growing map of experience that guides you.
And as your map grows with twists and turns, dead ends and roundabouts, sometimes, just sometimes, your writing takes you down a road that leads to another, and then another and before you know it, your words are hurtling down a motorway full throttle towards publication. Or even just the satisfaction of completion, of ability, of accomplishment. Or better writing.
The only way to get on the road of writing, is to write.
I’ve written all my life, but never considered myself a writer until relatively recently. I have written diaries and journals from the first days I could write. I wrote school newsletters, I wrote travel articles when I was travelling and as soon as they were invented, I wrote blogs. But I still only wrote as a hobby. But soon I even whittled down my job to the thing I liked doing most – writing. Skills and training and experience are one way to channel your career. Passion is another.
But weirdly it was leaving the world of work that opened up a new road on my map of writing. I took the head-staggers one day and wrote about a thought I had had. It started off looking like a blank page and ended up looking like an article. So my head kept staggering and I sent it off to a magazine. And then the best thing ever happened. I got rejected!! Now, I had just read Stephen King’s On Writing and he dedicates a whole chapter to rejections. He describes the colour and the smell of his growing pile of rejections. He describes his failures as if they were a fundamental part of his success. I just had one rejection (so far), and it was an impersonal email with no smell or colour, but frankly, to have any experience akin to Stephen King, was an experience worth having (except for the near death road accident…and the alcoholism….and the coke habit. Ok, so just him as a writer then).
So I took that rejection as a membership card to the Club of Writers. You can’t be a writer until you have been rejected! So I sent it off again. Meanwhile I wrote another. Hooray!! I got another rejection. So in bloody determination to get another (because at this stage, I hadn’t got past the fact that rejection meant I was a writer) I sent it off to another magazine. And then the bubble burst. I didn’t get a rejection. I got a phone call. The voice was friendly. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She told me she loved it. This definitely wasn’t supposed to happen. She wanted to publish it…. and then the most important words a writer wants to hear after ‘you are rejected,’ and ‘you have been accepted.’…….. “Have you written anything else?”
And from that phone call I wrote at least one article for every issue of that magazine for seven years. And from the confidence of that, I started a blog. From that blog, came other magazine commissions, and from those, came commissions in a national newspaper. But still, I was writing. Constantly writing. Two creative writing classes, three laptops and four years it took until I finished my first novel. It was so finished!! It was so, you know, full of chapters. It was so crap.
It still sits in my desk drawer as a reminder of the major inroads it made on my writing map. It didn’t lead anywhere……and yet. The sheer experience of writing it, the sheer discipline of writing it, the sheer crapness of it, put a significant mark on my writing map. It is a landmark on my landscape of writing. So I looked at some of the writing that was good, and I looked at some of the structure that was bad, and I started writing another novel. Meanwhile I’m writing a blog and I’m writing articles and I’m writing for my job. And I’m still writing diaries and journals. Damn it, I’m writing post it notes.
The second novel is much, much better than the first. But I’m still not sure it’s good enough. I decided to get professional feedback (this is as important, if not more, than rejection). I worked with Vanessa at Inkwell and she helped me shape it (and made me kill one of my babies, but that’s different article!) and send it to agents and publishers. The feedback was encouraging. It is more than encouraging. So I take that on board. Feedback is like a compass. It gives you direction, but only if you have made your own map. It shows you true North when you are a little more than lost. But you need your own writing map so you know which road to true North you should take.
So I’ve started a third novel. It is much, much better than the second. Much better. I think I finally have it. But in the meantime (and what I am finding is, that so much happens ‘in the meantime’) my blog has caught attention. Because one aspect of my writing was presented to people in the industry, I’ve been offered a book deal on another. I have been asked to write a non-fiction book based on my blog. To completely bastardise Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in the woods, and I…. I took the one that was offered to me. I have a book deal (and as a consequence a book to write!!), through a road I wasn’t plotting on the map. Meanwhile… (there should always be a ‘meanwhile’)…. I am always writing. Novels, books, articles, blogs, diaries, journals, post it notes. Only writing opens the opportunity to writing. So, get your arse in that chair. And while you’re sitting there, it’s amazing what can happen in the meantime.
(c) Alana Kirk