This year I have decided to focus on my writing and it's already been quite an adventure. I have always had a creative outlet through music and blogging, but to be honest, before this year, I had not devoted any serious time to writing. So what's changed?
Well, moving to Spain in January allowed me to take stock and appreciate that I have the lifestyle that allows for a more time consuming (and hopefully rewarding) hobby. There is no right time to start writing, no shortcuts to learning, and no magic formula for success, so really the sooner you get started, the better.
It takes plenty of time effort to improve your writing, and there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. One has to be realistic.
"Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay." Christopher Hitchens
I'm not going to lie, 'being a writer' holds a certain allure, I too post writing quotes on Twitter and drink too much coffee, but I have reached the point where I am willing to embrace the grind, and just write in order to improve my efforts.
The write plan:
Christopher Hitchens need not worry, I'm not planning on rushing out a novel just yet. That would be a bit like taking up boxing to keep fit and being thrown in with Mike Tyson for three rounds of heavy sparring.
These things take time, and so I have a rough plan:
Year one - Write one story per month, improve work through feedback, submit my best work, and take an online writing course.
Year two - Take a 'live' writing course or attend a writing festival, achieve publication for short story, and join stable writing circle.
Year three - Develop a professional network, consider a qualification, and start writing longer works of fiction.
This is not just writing about being a writer, it gives me something to work towards. If I do end up doing this professionally (or even semi-professionally), I will probably look back on this naive learning phase with fond memories.
Learning to write:
So what have I actually done to learn my craft?
1. Seeking technical advice
There are a thousands of books and websites to help budding authors, too many in fact. The industry is insular - writers writing about how to be a writer, and writers reading other writers' efforts. Learning the trade whilst remembering that a world outside of literature exists is a surprisingly difficult task.
Being the impatient fellow that I am, I am now subscribed to newsletters, forums and writing magazines galore to make sure that I am given a kick every day to pick up a pen or at least read something constructive.
2. Connecting with writers
Living abroad makes meeting other English language writers a challenge. I have tried to connect with writers online, through Twitter, Reddit and Critique Circle (a place to get opinion and improve your work). The number of novice writers out there can make finding trusted and valuable connections difficult. There are too many people shouting, and not enough listening. I plan to keep using Critique Circle to sharpen my stories although you need to subscribe to really get the best out of the site.
3. Reading reading reading
My Kindle has been on fire this year, burning through book after book. Short Stories are much undervalued in my opinion and should be more popular. We only have 30 minutes to read on a busy commuter train, or a quarter of an hour before sleep, so why aren't we gorging on bite-sized fiction?
For those with an e-reader, Instapaper offers a great way to store web pages for later reading. A quick Internet search will throw up hundreds of great shorts to get started with. Added to that, many classic collections are available for free on Project Gutenberg and competition compendiums usually cost just a few pounds.
4. Going back to school
I had the good fortune to win a place on a short fiction course through entering a competition. The PWA runs a 16 week course with 6 units of online learning, group discussion of work, and the tutor feedback. I'm halfway through the course and loving it.
On completion of this course I plan to whizz through a free course offered offered by the Open University on the excellent Future Learn platform.
Enough talk. It's important to get cracking and start creating. The end goal after all, is for others to enjoy your stories. While some of my work remains under wraps as it's submitted for publication or to competitions, I regularly post my poems and stories for the world to see.
For this I use Scriggler - a writing, blogging and debating platform. It's a place where you can share all types of writing from opinion or research to stories and poetry.
Most writers use Scriggler as place to build a portfolio of their work, some use it to jot down thoughts and ideas. You can add pictures, videos, widgets, audio, searchable tags, and have posts promoted through Scriggler's Twitter feeds (which are around 200,000 followers strong).
As you post your scribblings, it's quite normal to wrack up a couple of hundred reads in the days after publication. Popular posts run into the thousands. This might not sound like much, but it's quite exciting that hundreds of other writers have chosen to take a look at your work. You can even find out who your readers are, as the platform provides in depth stats on your readership.
Scriggler clubs are interest groups (e.g. flash fiction, horror writing) where you can interact with others using the site. These groups give you the chance to follow and connect with authors of similar styles and genres.
Although you can search for the most popular pieces, the platform has a points based system to keep everybody coming back - even the 'small timers'. The points are based on the number of publications, comments and likes you submit and receive. This rewards the most active users with a better chance of being promoted in the site's news letters and highlighted content.
The platform is not an all in one solution for writers. It's not the ideal place to construct your prose or to receive detailed critiques. However, it has so many plus points that it's a wonder more authors aren't using it as a way to publish promote and connect. It's free, has no annoying adverts, and comments are moderated to ensure that it remains a positive environment for authors.
In addition, creator Dmitry Selemir is seemingly always on hand to answer questions and help authors get the best out of Scriggler by publishing research, and streamlined 'how-to' articles.
I will be continuing to 'Scriggle' and hope to get the best out of it in the future.
While I accept that I am no Hemingway or Chekhov quite yet, my progress is still something to shout about. If work remains locked in a box (or more likely on a server), you're never going to be proud of it. It's not finished until you press send, so, it's important to enter competitions and submit your work where you can. How else are you going to get published?
This year I have entered competitions with Henshaw Press, The Bath Short Story Award, Bath Flash Fiction Award, Writer's Forum magazine, Writing Magazine, The Short Story, and submitted poetry and prose to a host of small publications.
If you would like to see some examples of my work, click on the link to my Scriggler page on the right of the screen, or follow my Twitter feed for updates.
You'll be the first to know when my name is in print!