We all have our opinions on what it takes to be a writer. For me, it's not so much about attending classes and knowing a list of literary definitions/devices, but more about honing my skills. In school, I was a good English Lang/Lit student. By my early high school years, I was crafting love stories that were passed around by my classmates. I'm not sure why I stopped writing, but twenty years passed before I was doing anything other than letters, proposals, reports and minutes.
Having come back to writing, it took me a while to realize that books were no longer written the way they were in the past. No longer were complex sentences in vogue. For someone like me, who has a love for sentences that can be classified as flowery prose, it took time to adapt.
In seeking to better my writing skills, I joined an online writing workshop and to date, it's the best decision I've made. I met some good, helpful and selfless writers, who were patient in helping me with point of view and punctuation issues. Added to that, I've read scads of articles on just about every aspect of writing. I also have a stash of books on the craft.
A few years ago, when I wanted to break in on the local scene, I did a course with a respected Caribbean writer and teacher, who is now deceased. He had scant regard for commercial fiction, which is exactly what I wanted to write. However, I'm eternally grateful to him because he taught me some valuable lessons. I was blown away by the fact that he thought I should never have stopped writing and that I was good at it. The other thing he told me was that I needed to simplify my writing. Always use $5 words over $10 ones, he said.
I've never forgotten his advice. The problem was, by the time I met him, I'd already written a half dozen manuscripts. Over the last few days, I've been looking at one story I wrote during that time and it's amazing how the advice I received then is going to be useful now.
Another writer who helped me tremendously with the ms mentioned above, kept telling me that Latinate words were bogging down my story. Boy, do I know what he means five years later. You see, in Jamaica we use British English and the first words I reach for (in combination with my writing style) are usually clunky when applied to storytelling. Add to that my love for complex sentences and you see what a challenge it becomes to weed the story from the jungle of words.
I’ve come a long way since I took up writing again in 2004 and as I like to say, there should be some kind of rule against writing novels before we know what we’re doing. The agony of multiple edits is the root of that opinion, but then how else do we learn other than by practising? I don’t know any other way, so like any other job, a period of
agony apprenticeship is a must.
The good thing is, with the experience I’ve gathered, I’m better able to mould those earlier stories into what I want them to be.
Don’t get discouraged, thinking you can’t write unless you have a degree, or attend countless workshops and conferences. All those things are desirable, encouraged, useful, but not mandatory.
I haven’t done more than that 8-month stint I talked about earlier and that was after my writing was raked through hundreds of critiques (some of which left me feeling violated) on that online workshop. And might I mention that I’ve gathered some local awards from judges who are tough critics?
In short, if you have the desire to write and the stick-to-itiveness it takes to do multiple edits, plus a yearning to have your stories published, then I say keep on doing what you’re doing to get there.
Your turn. What do you think it takes to be a writer. Book learning? Hours of practise? Natural ability? A little bit of everything?