Back in the day, I used to blog quite regularly (I wrote about that here), mainly because it enabled me to put my thoughts and experiences into words, and publish them without asking anyone’s permission. I liked, too, that I could edit a post after pressing Publish, so it didn’t have to be perfect. (Everyone knows that typo gremlins live in computers and sleep until you press Publish, when they wake up and scramble all the letters and words.)
Blogging was the means by which I cut my teeth when learning this craft. Sharing my work with the public meant I had to edit it (as much as the typo gremlins would allow) so it was readable and understandable and flowed. Not only that, but putting thoughts and experiences into words helped me work through and process them, which, of course, filtered into my fiction and improved that in intangible and unmeasurable ways. Blogging formed a not insignificant part of my writing apprenticeship.
I haven’t blogged much over the past couple of years. Initially, publishing my book took over, then writing my second novel. Family, paid work and general daily living have also consumed my hours.
But the main reason I stopped was because I lost my confidence. When my book came out, my audience suddenly skyrocketed. I felt under scrutiny and started second-guessing myself, and stopped writing words here.
All this backstory is really just to say I’ve regained my confidence and feel like blogging again. So I’ve decided to resurrect a series of posts I started back in 2017 called, ‘How to Write a Book’.
Without further ado, I bring you the first post:
How to Start Writing
Not so long ago—well, it was eleven years ago, but it doesn’t feel that long—I enrolled in my first face-to-face writing group. I rocked up not knowing anyone, with no idea what to expect and feeling about as relaxed as a worm on the end of a fishing hook.
One of the attendees, a friendly young man, came over and struck up a conversation. He asked me what I was writing, and I said I wanted to write a novel.
‘Which genre?’ he said.
I stared blankly at him for a longer-than-polite period before saying, ‘I have no idea.’ I omitted telling him the only genres I knew were romance, crime and sci-fi, and my novel fitted into none of those.
‘Commercial or literary?’ he said.
Aha, I thought. I know what literary means. So I said, ‘Yes, I want to write literature.’
Despite not knowing what literary fiction was, I said, ‘Mmm-hmm.’
‘Noble aim,’ he said, and I knew I’d answered incorrectly because there was absolutely nothing noble about my writing.
During the workshop, people asked questions and talked about the books they were writing and quoted authors I’d never heard of and used all sorts literary jargon that was like a foreign language to me. Everyone else sounded like they knew what they were doing, and I felt ignorant and out of place. I had questions but I didn’t ask a single one because I didn’t want to reveal my stupidity.
I’ve learnt a lot since that day eleven years ago, mainly through on-the-job training. I did workshops and courses, too, but the best writing course, the one I’d highly recommend, is called Trial and Error. This course can be taken at home, at your desk. Start with T&E 101 and progress through 201 and 301, and so on. I’ve just enrolled in T&E 1201 this year.
The number of T’s and E’s I’ve made could fill a book—and maybe one day they will. I laugh about them now, the ones I remember, but I’ve forgotten most of them because they don’t matter. Actually, they do matter because without them my book wouldn’t be written, let alone published, nor would I be writing a second. And I wouldn’t be spending my days doing something I truly love, but still dreaming about some day in the future when I’d be good enough to write a book.
Because the hardest part of writing is to start, and the trick is, simply, to start. There’s no magic to it—just begin. Even if you feel ignorant, uncomfortable, like a worm on a fishing hook.
Because there’s only one thing you need to start writing, and that’s desire. You just have to want to write. Nothing else. If you want to write, go ahead and do it.
Here’s an (incomplete) list of things you don’t need in order to start writing:
To be good enough
Perfect spelling, grammar or punctuation
To get it right first go
To know the difference between commercial and literary fiction
To know which genre you’re writing in
To have been good at English at school
To have always wanted to be a writer
A knowledge of the classics
To be able to quote Shakespeare
To have even read Shakespeare
Amazing things to have happened to you
Your mother’s approval
Your family to know
A clear diary for the next six months
A room of one’s own
As well as desire, here’s a list of things that are highly desirable if you want to start writing:
A good dose of courage
As Ernest Hemingway said, ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ And Brenda Ueland said, ‘Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.’ (By the way, I highly recommend Brenda’s book, If You Want to Write—truly inspirational!)
So if you want to write, grab a notebook and pen or your laptop, and sit down and write. It’s as simple as that.