Learning how to write

Last year I finally finished the second draft of my novel, Forgiveness, and was/still am super excited about it. I thought I’d really hit the nail on the head and sent it off to a couple of contacts with hopes of getting some good reviews or even someone who was keen to publish.

Despite my excitement however I received (as everyone does) some early knock backs. The biggest feedback I received was that while the story was good (yay!) my writing needed work. I needed to develop the emotions and back-story of the book, moving away from telling and more into showing.

I have to admit I was a little taken aback and the thought of going through the entire book again to re-edit was, and remains, daunting. Part of me just wanted to keep pushing, ignoring the comments and hoping someone else sees it differently. However, with other things on my mind the book fell off the priority list for a little while, and I didn’t really touched it for months. Recently however I’ve tried to go and have another look, to see where I can fix things and make them better. I have some changes to story I want to make, as well a desire to see if I can find ways to improve the writing as I go in.

Reading the first couple of chapters what has struck me is how correct those readers were. While I remain immensely proud of what I’ve achieved so far, going back to look at what I’ve written I see the major problems with the writing. The book in many places is quilt stilted and unemotional, full of short sentences that I thought were being ‘direct’, but in fact were just me cutting off any depth. I spent a lot of time in this draft cutting things down, trying to stop myself from being long winded, but in the end just made something that was a bit dry.

I’ve also found this recently in an instance of my non-fiction. Re-reading my proposal for Sexy Capitalism I realised how dry and boring the language was (feedback I have also received from people who have read it). Trying to constrain it to the compulsory two pages I took all life out of it, making it a dull representation of what the book is about (and far duller than the chapters I’ve written).

This is something I’ve struggled with throughout this writing process. All of the stuff I read about writing talks about the ‘author’s voice’, that natural thing you develop that defines you as a writer. I have to admit this is something I’ve continuously struggled to find, or at least to see in myself. Even in my non-fiction, where I am far more confident, I sometimes fail to see what is uniquely mine, instead picturing myself largely as being a ‘nothing’ in a crowd of amazing writers with amazing voices and points-of-view.

What has been excited about re-reading the chapters however, and going over my proposal for Sexy Capitalism, is that while I’ve noticed the stilted language, I can easily see a way out of it. Instead of being stuck I have a world of ideas of how to change things. I feel more confident in starting over. I feel much more confident that I have a voice that I have developed and will be able to express in the new draft.

I want to be able to define how it is that I feel more confident in doing this. I wish I could put it down to a formula, something I can copy and repeat for every project I work on. But what I’ve realised is that this is just a measure of time, and practice. Writing, despite all we may like to hear, is not just something that is inherently ‘there’ – you’re either good at it or you’re not – it is something that takes practice, time and dedication (when you can manage that). What I’m noticing more and more is simply how much my writing is improving with every practice that I do. Just like anything else I’m learning new skills, figuring out what’s and what doesn’t, and learning how to adapt to those circumstances.

And so in many ways I feel like now is the time when I’m finally starting to properly learn how to write. I’m finally getting the skill down, and finding my voice in doing so. Despite the daunting task of re-writing the book, that is quite exciting!

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