Then, of course, there’s the pressure of getting published. You’re so keen to get that hallowed publishing contract, you forget what drove you to write in the first place. With all these distractions, it’s hardly surprising that we writers struggle to keep ourselves focused on what really matters – creating the best writing that we possibly can.
A Moment of Realisation
I was working on a short story a few days ago. I’ve had a few minor successes recently (a few had been longlisted , plus one was accepted into a printed anthology), so, being a typical writer, I was hungry for more.
It was a good story. I was relatively pleased with it. But, as I stared at the screen, chewing my pen (and trying not to wince as my kitten dug his claws directly into the back of my neck), I realised something profound. I’d been writing the story to impress the judges, rather than writing the best thing I possibly could. And that wasn’t a good thing.
How do You ‘Write Your Best’?
This got me thinking about why I started writing in the first place, and what it was about story-telling that really mattered to me. As a result, I didn’t scrap the short story – instead, I rewrote the entire thing, focusing not on ‘winning the competition’ or ‘wowing the judges’, but on writing something I could feel 100% proud of.
It was a joy and a relief to get back to basics like that. After all, that’s why we do it, isn’t it? Because we have those words inside us, and we want to release them in all their glorious authenticity, rather than painting them in gaudiness and fakery.
As I rewrote the story, I focused on the following:
- Did it ‘feel’ true? Were those words exactly what I’d wanted to say, or was I merely using a ‘fancy’ phrase to make it sound better? Anything that didn’t feel totally authentic got scrapped.
- Did it flow well? Immersing yourself in a good story should feel like a journey. If it’s an exciting tale, this journey might feel like a racing rollercoaster. If it’s a feel-good story, perhaps more like a lazy drift down a river. Either way, it shouldn’t be jarring, awkward, or come to an abrupt, unsatisfying end!
- Was every word needed? Some words look wonderful on paper. Some sentences are filled with poetry. But ultimately, if it doesn’t contribute to the story as a whole, then it’s pointless. There’s a certain satisfaction in slashing out redundant prose – and knowing that you’ve created something better as a result.
- Are the characters ‘real’? It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about an elderly woman, a young cad or an alien; all your characters need to be believable. You need to get inside their heads in order to tell their story.
Writing for Publication
Of course, publication is always going to be at the back of your mind. Before the Dr Ribero series was written, I was so keen to be traditionally published – I desperately wanted that recognition, and the knowledge that my work was of a high enough standard to get accepted.
However, when writing The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, it was the first time that publication hadn’t been my main focus. Rather, I was writing for enjoyment again; creating the story that I’d been longing to tell for ages, but had been too afraid to, because I was worried that people would think it was too silly – it is a lighthearted story about a ghost-hunting agency, after all!
The irony wasn’t lost on me – that the first book I’d purely written for myself, which I’d poured my soul into, was the book that got picked up by a publisher (thanks Amberjack for having that faith in me!). That’s the thing, isn’t it? When we let our pens run free, when we open our hearts and let them spill them onto the paper – that’s when we’re creating something that’s truly worth reading.