Do it your way

If I could offer just one piece of advice to young writers it would be this – Do it your way.

Whatever people think of Song of the Sea God, they can’t deny it is unique – that I stuck to my guns, did my own thing. (See what you think here.)

So often it seems writers, and I guess other artists too, are encouraged to fit in and adapt and be something they are not to get approval. It’s so tempting to try to give people what they want in an attempt to have your work accepted – we all yearn to be loved and wanted after all.

But what I would say is this – as a writer starting out, maybe with your first book or first story, all you have is your voice – that’s all. You have no reputation, no contacts, no nothing – only that voice. So don’t compromise it. Be yourself, be the best writer you can be.

Yes you will be stonewalled by publishers, patronised and ignored by agents, passed over in competitions. But that will happen to you however you write. If you try to fit in, compromise your style, be who you think other people want you to be, it will happen anyway – and it will feel worse.

Because there is something honest and right about writing the way you feel you can and should be writing. Even when you get knocked back you can be proud you have been true to yourself.

You’ve not gone in there claiming to be the next (insert famous author) you’ve gone in with your head held high claiming to be the very first you.

The whole business of metooism is so lazy – the way movies come in a rash with everyone having the same ‘idea’ at once. I was trying to think of a good example of this and I came up with the way they sell the rights to TV shows these days. If a show is a hit in one country they sell it in another – and make it not only with the same format – but they ‘cast’ presenters to pretend to be the characters from the early successful show. So the quiz show QI with donnish boffin Stephen Fry in the chair and ‘oik’ Alan Davies as team captain is sold in other countries who cast their own dons and oiks in the ‘roles’.

Similarly the motoring show Top Gear – based on three middle-aged men joshing and grumbling with each other and making ‘hilarious’ politically incorrect japes about foreign nations, has been ‘cast’ in just the same way. I watched ten minutes of the American version recently and, because in the original UK show one of the presenters is short, the US cast were pretending one of them was ‘the short one’ too, even though he clearly wasn’t and in fact was more or less the same height as the other two.

You get yourself in such a preposterous tangle trying to be something you are not. And as a writer it can lead you to produce work you don’t really believe in.

Hey listen – I was a newspaper journalist for more than 20 years, I know how to be a hack and churn out what is required to a deadline. But my creative writing has always been something which is, first of all, for me. And it should be that way for you too.

Don’t let them tell you who to be – you will feel much better if you achieve success on your own terms.

11 thoughts on “Do it your way”

  1. I completely, totally and utterly agree with you, Chris! 🙂 There – is that enough adverbs? I should mention here that I have recently read Stephen King’s book On Writing, which gives quite some advice (much of it good) to new wannabe writers. I had to laugh because he seems to have a thing against adverbs, and when I re-read my first book, African Ways, recently, I was struck by the number of adverbs I have used there. I mentioned it to a friend who was reading it at the time and she told me not to pay any attention to our Mr King – that my voice is my voice and the adverbs give it colour and are, in fact, part of my voice, so (I’m taking my time getting to the point again, aren’t I?) your post here has sort of given me the extra thumbs up to keep my own voice. And ya boo sucks to Mr King. If I want to litter my books with descriptive, emotive, OTT adverbs, I will. Thanks for another great post, Chris! Maybe you’d like to pop over to mine sometime for a guest stint on what it was like to be a newspaper journalist for all those years? Fancy a Watery Ways weberview in the new year?

    1. Would love to! Will do you a swap if you like – will DM you my email on twitter. Yes – I have my doubts about how to writing books – though I do like some – blog there for the future maybe

      1. Great! I’ll look for your message. Am having trouble with notifications right now, so a DM is the best thing. If I don’t get it, I’ll let you know! A swap would be nice – thanks!

  2. Spot on as always, Chris. I think some how-to writing books have a tremendous amount of good advice that can help keep newer writers from reinventing the wheel. Personally, I enjoyed King’s book but do avoid latching onto any advice couched with an “always” or a “never.” It seems as though everyone has their list of hard and fast rules that must be followed. Thank you for reminding us that it’s best to let our own personalities shape the story.

    1. I agree Wendy. Like you I do have time for some of the ‘how to’ books and I might do a blog at some point about my favourites, but I think in the end you have to be yourself as a writer – that’s what you have that’s unique.

  3. Couldn’t agree with you more, Chris – and not just because I couldn’t write something like the infamous “50 Shades” if my life depended on it (thank goodness it doesn’t!). The only problem is that I suspect that my possibly quaint but definitely not commercial “rural raconteur” style isn’t quite going to generate the same frenzy of interest as the illustrious E.L. James. Ah well, c’est la vie!

    1. I know where you’re coming from, my published novel is literary fiction – which can loosely be translated as ‘that which the public is not interested in’ so I know what you mean about realising you’re not desperately commercial. I’m still glad I produced a good book though – for me, that’s the main thing!

    1. Yes, I think you have to do the best you can basically, rather than trying to ape everyone else. Afterall, there’s no guarantee that just because you copy something which has been successful that your copy will also be a success.

  4. Great post and just what I needed to hear today. I’m really guilty of taking rejection to heart and believing I have to change what I write about in order to please people. But we have to accept not everyone will like our writing or characters or what we have to say, and it shouldn’t stop us trying to show life truthfully in the way we see it. As you said, it’s what makes us unique. Thank you for reminding me of that.

    1. Thanks Catherine! Rejection gets easier over time I think – I’m published but I still get rejection slips for my next book – the way I see it is, it just hasn’t found it’s home yet. I think if you are working hard, being true to yourself, producing your best stuff, then that’s what matters rather than conforming.

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