Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Discovering the Form of Writing You Were Meant For

On 11th August, I led a Workshop at Wellingborough African & Caribbean Association, with the theme: 

Discovering the Form of Writing You Were Meant For
Here are the workshop notes:

Finding the right form is important for any writer. Just like an athlete has to pick what kind of sport to dedicate themselves to, or a musician has to pick what kind of instrument to play, a writer needs to know what form fits them best.

Trial & error led me to a form that fit me:

  1. Poetry: Less is more; with poems I get to use personal & diverse themes, experiment with form, add images (photo poems) and they don't usually take as long as a short story or a whole novel!
  2. Personal Essay: Conversational, range of themes i.e. personal & political, not academic, and most important a free form usually of between 1,000 – 2,000 words.
    The above 1 & 2 were great forms to express myself creatively and yet I could get an opinion or perspective out there. They are why I produced 3 anthologies of this type of writing.
  3. Blogs: In form, blog writing is closest to a personal essay or an opinion piece; the basic short form of non-fiction. I find this type of writing liberating as it's immediate and interactive – and I can add images, You tube videos and broadcast rather than waiting for a book publisher!
  4. Children's Writing: Both non-fiction and fiction – a more recent discovery and one that I wasn't sure of (I found this a real challenge) but interested enough to sign up for a course at Academy of Children's Writing; I forced myself to write the assignments at the beginning; having completed 8 out of 10 assignments, this writing genre is definitely growing on me. I want to finish what I started.
To Be a Writer You Need 3 Important Things (i.e. Qualities)

  1. TALENT: Definition – a special natural ability or aptitude; a capacity for achievement or success. Anyone who has the inclination to write can do it. Writing is both an art and a craft – it can be learned and it must be practised. You do need some self-confidence tempered by self-criticism. You can only concentrate on the art of writing, when you've done the work in the craft of writing!
  2. DISCIPLINE: If you haven't got discipline – forget it! Seriously, it's not a game this writing lark. You make a commitment and you write everyday, or at least 5 days/week. You do this systematically, you don't let yourself stop. You make yourself write, even when you don't want to – there's no waiting for inspiration or the right vibe, or the right pen! (talking of writing tools – writing is one of the cheapest arts there is – just pen & paper!) And even, if you don't feel like it, you go against the grain and write! You need to break some barriers. This gives you a certain rhythm, like daily exercises that Olympic athletes do to achieve, so do writers need to keep the creative juices flowing daily.
    For my recent assignment, a 1500 word mystery story for children, I gave myself a target/goal of 1 month (I'm not just writing this story, I'm doing other things). I wrote a plot outline, researched on the Internet, wrote the 1st draft by hand, at intervals of 300 words per day, (about 1 x A4 page), which meant I was connecting with the story, keeping in with the rhythm. I wrote some at home, some at a nice bar in Sywell and some in a café. Then I typed up the story, and finally, edited it down to 1500 words.
    NB: Writing is always a work in progress until you submit the story i.e. let go of it.
    NB: Always finish what you've started!
    NB: You must give yourself targets/goals; no one else is going to do that, and even when you're writing for a competition or completing an assignment, no one will know/care if you don't meet the closing date/deadline!
  1. TEMPERAMENT: Mantra: 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!'
    It's so important that you don't give up and throw in the towel at the first hurdle. So you're going to need a particular temperament to keep going.
    Your writing may be good and you may have a best-seller in you, BUT, it is likely to be rejected, especially if you're an unknown, an unheard of writer.
    So you cannot be a shrinking violet, especially at the beginning.
    JK Rowland is a BIG celebrity writer, she has sold millions of her Harry Potter books worldwide, and has become more than a millionaire, especially in the film industry as Warner Bros. had directed/produced her work.
    Initially her work was rejected by many publishers – about four – who must be kicking themselves right now. Eventually, she got her breakthrough with an agent/publisher – the rest is history.
    JK Rowland had a strategy; she planned/plotted all 7 Harry Potter novels and knew the story outcomes before she started. Discipline – she worked daily as a teacher and was a single parent. She wrote her books in cafés after school hours. She is a role model to follow. You have to do what it takes, go the extra mile, with your writing.

And finally some common tips:

Carry your tool-kit: This is a pen, portable notepad (or electronic substitute) Be ever ready to capture that thought, idea that may change the world! (Only joking...)

Read widely: Reading the work of others is a must and really can help boost your self-confidence as it is often inspiring and you absorb different expressions of language.

Write what you know: Write about what you know; what interests and inspires you. Start small – short stories can be a passport to or launch of your career as a writer. Study this though as the short story genre is vastly different to the novel. Your writing has to be tighter – less is more here!

Finish what you started: This gives you much-needed satisfaction and proves you have what it takes (discipline).

Seek constructive feedback: It's important that you air your writing, reading out-loud to yourself isn't quite enough. Be careful and choose people whose judgement you trust and respect and who you know appreciate your creativity.

Be patient: Writing requires a lot of patience because it’s generally a solitary affair in which you patiently sketch out your words until you’re happy they appropriately portray your sentiments. Because the space in between unpublished and acknowledged published can be broad and long. Because a body of great work is usually crafted and does not appear instantly

Don’t give up the day job – writing is not a profession if you value job security!


  1. Some great advice here Nicole. So J K Rowling was a teacher and single parent?! Two full times jobs whilst writing. Amazing. It's definitely given me inspiration for getting Mr Wrong completed while teaching teens. Thanks Nicole :)

  2. Thanks Danni and you're very welcome - glad you've been inspired - we all need that us creative folk. Yes, JK Rowland is a great role model for us as she never gave up and look at her now!