Thursday, 26 September 2013

Why the unknown is a writer's friend


Get ready guys because the sun is coming...probably.

Life is uncertainty. And I'm pretty certain about that. It's true for writing as well, of course.

Characters walk a tightrope that's fixed to idea at one end and completion at the other. Far below in those chasmy* depths lurk cliche, overworked allegory, formula and a host of other pitfalls.

Plots that start out as something of a romance-turned-sour can end up as terror or slapstick.

And hey, let's not forget what I call the Superwriting trilemma: Is it a bird (short story)? Is it a plane (novella)? No, it's Superwriting (novel)!

So, when you plan to write fiction, the only thing to be certain of is that very little is certain at the beginning. Later, as things progress, other uncertainties fill the spaces left behind.

Who do you show your work to?
When do you show them your work?
When (oh when) is the piece of writing good enough to merit 'The End'? (Which, incidentally, we never, ever write on a manuscript, only in a writing diary.)

See what I mean? Everywhere you turn there's a stack of unknowns, piled high on your plate like unclaimed waffles.

And that's a good thing.

Here's why:

1. There's a prevailing attitude that anything can be learned by rote and then a winning formula can be repeated. Now, I have a keen interest in NLP and the effectiveness of modelling (the kind that doesn't require pouting and swimwear), but while we can model behaviours and techniques, that's no guarantee of a similar outcome. You may well improve the odds of a positive outcome, but that could be another result entirely.

2. Because life is inherently uncertain, embracing that philosophy not only gives you hope, it empowers you to try things others may have done, and even, perish the thought, things they tried and failed at.

3. As nothing is guaranteed except death and taxes (even for corporates, until a tax avoidance scheme is identified), you can try anything.

A case in point. My good friend Sue ran a successful Amazon giveaway and follow-up campaign. She gave away a fair few books and sold oodles afterwards. I, on the other hand, gave away 300 freebies and sold less than a dozen afterwards. Now, there may be many reasons why there was a difference:
- Genre / niche
- Tweet messages (twessages?)
- The style of writing
- The standard of writing
- Mercury being retrograde (if I have to explain it, it won't be as funny)
- The timing of the campaign and the time of day
- Price (last, but never least)

So what do you do when things don't work out for you the way you planned?
Simple. You do something else.

If there's a message here (and I think we're all hoping), it's that you write, you do whatever you feel is appropriate with your writing, and then you write something else.

Actually, I fibbed right at the beginning. There is another certainty beyond uncertainty and it's this: If you stop writing, you stop being a writer. Hand in your badge on the way out.

*chasmy is my new word of the week - neat, huh?

4 comments:

  1. I suspect very few writers have things work out totally to plan, or I suppose we'd all be signed to our first-choice agent with a three book, six-figure publishing deal by now. As somebody embarking simultaeously on trying to write a sixth version of novel one and a third version of novel two, it's not going entirely to plan, but it IS pretty wonderful nevertheless.

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  2. Hiya Chloe, I agree with you. We're free to try anything or nothing. Today I had a comedy content proposal turned down by an entertainment agent. There are others, however! Well done on getting stuck into book two - do you feel you have to compartmentalise your time and approach?

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    1. Haven't started yet. So I'll let you know! For more on time management (well for pleas for advice on time management) see my blog tomorrow!

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    2. I'll be there with my old project management hat on. And my top tip for To-Do lists.

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