The writing life is full of snags and snares, setbacks, tanglements, diversions and dead ends. Written words demand so much mental application – from the writers who deal in them, and the readers who receive them. After all, before the writer’s meaning can be de-coded, willing victims readers must actively choose to engage.
Even then, nothing is certain. Reader engagement is always provisional. Only when the decision is made – that sticking with the decoding process will yield rewards, do writers have the chance to have their say.
Readers want a good pay-off from the writer’s words. But for their part, writers cannot read readers’ minds to know precisely what they expect. It’s all very precarious.
Interaction-wise, the applied and performing arts definitely have the edge. They communicate directly with an audience’s senses and emotions, often bypassing the need for intellectual effort input altogether. Reactions to such works may be superficial and fleeting, and the creators’ deepest intentions not fully grasped, but engagement at some level swiftly takes place. The experience is vivid in its fullest sense. Excitement can be instantaneous. Written texts simply cannot compete with this kind of immediacy.
Also words can be such tricky things. Lumpy. Clumsy. Rife with ambiguity. Achieving absolute clarity on the page involves hard labour, although this is only half the battle. In fiction writing plain speaking is not enough. The construction must be affecting. Fascinating. There must be mystery –at the very least the hook of: ‘how will this turn out?’ Then there is the matter of authenticity and the creation of a convincing, fully functioning reality. (Even fantasy worlds must have believable existence.)
In its crudest form, writing a story is like devising and setting a trap. How do you lure in the reader? What does it take to hold them until the final word is read?
So this means there’s a craft to be learned, and practised and practised. Then practised some more. And when you finally release your carefully worked contrivance onto the unsuspecting and uninterested world there will be rejection. (See Lynn Love’s post on this and how to murder it HERE). It is part of the learning process. It teaches you to target your work more carefully; to read more; to develop powers of objective self-appraisal; to learn from negative comments; to become better at what you do.
You also need to bear in mind that this apprenticeship may take a life-time; that success in material terms may never happen. The act of creating is a vocation; an act of faith too. But at the heart of it, you write because you must. Perhaps that should be enough. I seem to have hopes of it. It anyway keeps me going – one word at a time.
copyright 2016 Tish Farrell
Tish Farrell Books & Short Fiction
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63 thoughts on “Travelling Hopefully ~ The Writer’s Way”
In today’s world, attracting anyone’s attention for more than five minutes (if so long) seems an impossibility.
I think you’re right, Kate. Destraction rules.
There are many different types of writers, and many styles of writing. Though I’ve been involved in the work, I’ve never studied it critically. But it does seem to me that movies have overtaken the writing of books for ‘entertainment’. Still, if one has a message, and not a lot of money… or he or she wishes to communicate without having a whole gang take part in the effort, the writers work provides an opportunity. The easiest way I know, is to imagine just one listener, and write to him or her. Obviously, we can’t win the hearts of everyone who is looking for a good read. But being able to relate to just a few people is a blessing in itself. And today, with the possibility of self publishing, even if what we have to say is not going to win widespread enthusiasm, there is still that chance that we will find a readership.
I agree with all of this, Shimon. And especially writing for just one ‘listener’. So much of people’s creativity is confounded by the market place, and the desire to loom large there. Although just sometimes it works of course.
Tish – I want to chime in on Simon’s comment (if I may) – because a while ago (last year sometime) They featured an author on NPR (national public radio) and this author (anonymous and that is all we know I guess) wrote a few books in 1991 and this college lit teacher was analyzing them and the quality- and one thing that stuck with me was how back then there was a different culture of writing and not the huge sales lure for best sellers (something like that) – but I love the point that was made with your and simon’s chat here – writing for one or a few main folks can keep things simpler – pure – and take pressure off by not thinking of the masses – just a lot to think about – 😳
Thanks for joining in the conversation, Yvette. Because what you say is SO-OOO important. Fiction has become so much of a commodity these days. I think it changes the way people write, and the way works are appraised. Though of course it’s always easy to think there was some Golden Age of publishing 🙂
Well if I hear it again I will send you a link! It was very interesting –
You demonstrate the craft beautifully, Tish, while showing at the same time just how daunting it is. 🙂
I’m taking a bow, Jo. Thank you. It’s what I hoped I was doing, but you never can be quite sure 🙂
I agree wih Shimon about the one listener.
So true. It is a learning journey for writing, never ending… Thank you, Tish!
Thank you 🙂
How true is every thoughtful word Tish. The writing craft is not for the lazy or the faint-hearted. Keep those one-word+one-word+one-words flowing – because flow they do. Here’s one reader who is always both pleased and admiring.
That is so very lovely of you, Meg. I do appreciate your encouragement.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to say this for a long time. You said that so much better than I ever could have.
Thank you, Thom.
PS Just after I read your piece I found this and thought you might enjoy it. It contains echoes of what you say so beautifully.
PPS Double oops – scrap that last link. I didn’t press hard enough on select all and copy, and got the last link I’d copied. Try this instead
I thought that’s what had happened, although the 1st link was interesting too. The Nigerian story though is really fascinating, so thank you.
To readers, writing is similar to a stroll…
That is so true 🙂
“In its crudest form, writing a story is like devising and setting a trap.”
I couldn’t agree with you more. We set traps for the characters as well as for the readers.
Oh I like that analogy, Peter. You certainly set lots of scary traps for your characters 🙂
😀 I love the notion of writers setting a trap. That analogy sits so beautifully with how I feel about writing. Thank you Tish; not least for the timing of this (however accidental). It has buoyed me up at a time when I’m at war with colleagues who place not value on writing skill.
So good to know this hit a timely spot with you, Su. These musings help me become clearer about things too.
Yes Tish; writing is not about recording the world but constructing it. At Uni I could never “plan” essays; I had to just start writing something and keep reading, and re-writing until I had the “aha” moment. Strange how looming deadlines helped me achieve that moment 🙂
Deadlines are cussed but v. useful things. It’s one of my problems – I don’t have any apart from when to cook dinner 🙂
My deadlines these days are really other peoples’ — mainly my boys. Their lives have jobs in them that shape the rhythm of our days. A bit frustrating at times, but probably useful for a procrastinator like me!
Take heart. You will FInd your own shaped days.
Thanks Tish. 🙂
To this day, I am always surprised that a few people actually buy my book and that they like it. I look at my words and all I see how I could and should have made them better. Writers. We are never satisfied. I think the day you are satisfied is the day you should quit being a writer.
Nothing worse than a complacent writer 🙂
One word at a time sounds like a good mantra to me.
It does, doesn’t it. I think I’ll pin it to my wall. Perhaps if one is really really pleased with that one word (instead of angsting about the ones not written) another will come along more swiftly. Talking of which, have you got your PC writing space sorted?
It’s cleared but I haven’t moved back in there yet, I need to upgrade the old pc from Vista to windows 7, procrastinate, procrastinate . . .
Oh there are ALWAYS reasons. So I’ll issue a command. UPGRADE!
and sort out the hard drive 🙂
This is an insight into your mind and inner turmoil Tish that certainly never shows in your finished posts. I always look forward to opening your blog and being entertained or informed or just in tune with what you write. But I think writing a full length book would be a whole different set of circumstances and I applaud all the many people out there that achieve that goal.
Of course some might say the inner turmoil is simply another more cunning presentation of prevarication. I think that’s probably true. All you have to do to create, says Clarissa Pinkola Estes – is to get out of the way. Easier said etc etc But this apart, I do appreciate your continuing company, Pauline.
Ah yes Tish, I am also a procrastinator of the first degree, you should see my pile of ironing 😦 and I prevaricate all the reasons for not doing it!!! (Now have I got that right?)
“you write because you must” – exactly – anything else is a bonus.
Thanks for the link, Tish! And what a great piece. Writing is a long and winding road, often with no destination sight (at least, if your hoped for destination is a lot of money and acclaim!) – all we can do is enjoy the journey.
Absolutely. And thanks for the follow 🙂
Pleasure. I thought I’d followed you weeks ago!
That’s really nicely put, Tish — the fact about the trap reminded me of the spider’s web image I’ve sometimes had with writing, to hanging out in some corner to catch some unsuspecting bystander who happens along into something I’ve made out of my spit. I like it — hope you’re well and enjoying the remains of January. We have a final week here outside of Bath, in “Combe Down” and then we’re back over to France, and Germany. Bye for now —
Ha! To catch the unsuspecting bystander – now there’s a much need knack. Wishing you well in your final UK phase. Loved that photo of the reflections in the car window that you’d posted in your last piece. It’s rather stuck in my mind’s eye, along with your talk of time slips. Almost as if it wants to lure out a Neil Gaiman type story…
Amen. It’s a good life, better with people like you, and specifically you Tish. Best, Bill
Oh that’s so very kind, Bill. Cheers x
I am interested in your viewpoint.I myself find writing prose very hard work.In poetry there can be music which carries one along.However that doesn’t make it good.Sometimes it is quite a surprise to the writer.I think some of us just have to do it but getting professional acknowledgement or money is a different story/
Yes, I think one needs to keep one’s creative head far away from thoughts of hitting the heights, or even the lows in the market place. It’s interesting that you find prose more difficult than poetry, but I understand what you mean about the inner music carrying you along.
Prose seems to demand more affort
If I have to write more than a page, I start to get a headache from mental strain, so I have enormous admiration for dedicated writers. As for entrapment, whilst this is not a novel, it’s a novel way of garnering attention. http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/europe/76344556/Spy-agencys-fun-quiz-still-not-cracked Wondering how it could be applied to novel writing and selling.
Maybe humans weren’t designed to write more than a page at a time. That’s a heartening thought. As to those crytograms, now they DO make my brain go squirly. But a fascinating notion of yours. I can feel it niggling in my story brain 🙂
Oh yes, I forgot to say the puzzles and crosswords etc hurt my brain, too!
Hehe. “In its crudest form, writing a story is like devising and setting a trap. How do you lure in the reader?” I see now where the catch lies for me. I refuse to do it, to trap or lure anybody. Somehow it feels contrived to me. I’ll have to deal with this matter in another way. That’s why my ‘About me’ says that we make mean lasagna. Somehow I don’t think it will quite do though.
There’s certainly a fine line between seeming too contriving, and finding a way to paint the best word picture you can, and so taking the reader with you. One question I ask myself is ‘how do I do the best by’ this topic/this character etc? How can I make what I say sound fresh? Or: how boring am I being here? Apart from that it’s all about practise. But I do like a good lasagna 🙂
🙂 It’s finger-licking. That said, amore makes it, I merely give moral support and then eat it 😀 But I like your question. It’s the way I tend to live as well. Thank you for your comment, Tish!
Fantastic wisdom here T! I do. It write fiction, yet could relate to the Universal points – and it actually is timely to read this now because as you know I am letting the “health” ebook sit and simmer. It is a boring project for me, but I feel it is needed as a resource for when I counsel people – and sometimes necessity is a great motivator.
Anyhow – traveling one word at a time and a writer writes because they “must” – oh such a nice take on the wpc for optimistic.
Side note – I think I have been following you for well over a year, but only now realize the pro writer part. Hm- I mean I always knew you were a good writer and I liked your posts – but I guess we grow into knowing our blog friends just like getting to know people in real life – which takes time – and maybe happens “one post at a time”
You’re forgiven for not knowing about my writing side. I haven’t written much in that vein for a while. Just started getting back into thinking about the writing process around Christmas. If you click on the little cube-shaped button thingy at the top right hand corner of my page, it will open up the page with links to other pages with my books etc
Cool – I will check out that later this month – have a nice day