Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Taking the Plunge

by Radika Meganathan 
© 2002, Radika Meganathan


I admit that it must be very confusing. You know you love to write, but you aren’t sure if that means you are a writer. You might also be doubtful about how good a writer you really are: whether you are going to be another pea in the pod, or what you must do to make a difference.

The truth is that you don’t have to be a genius to be a writer. Oh yes, there are geniuses who have become writers, but being intelligent or super-creative is not a prerequisite. You don’t even have to worry about being a non-native speaker of English. If Ayn Rand can create a work like Fountainhead, in spite of being a Russian with no knowledge of English until she was 25, so can you. All you need is the love of writing, some time to write, and loads of perseverance. 

The first thing to do is to ask yourself the crucial question: Do you really want to be a writer? Many assume that because they love to read, they will be able to write great stories. The fact that you like tasty food doesn’t make you a great cook, does it?

Successful writing takes much more than good grammar and good ideas. A writer should have the courage to write his thoughts without fearing how others are going to view them, and the determination to write it anyway. He must also have the perseverance to withstand weeks, months and maybe years of rejection before receiving any reward for his effort. On the technical side, writing requires specific knowledge, a quick eye for details, good structure, excellent editing skills (or you will have your manuscript back before you can blink) and constant research and improvisation.

Being a writer is not an easy job, but neither is it a Herculean task. However, there are some things you can do to improve your chances of succeeding in this wonderful profession.  Here are some tips to help you get started:

1.  Use your senses

You need to tune your senses to perceive things in a way you have never done before. See, think and feel like a writer. A writer should possess keen observation, and vivid visualization. Train your senses to be sharper and more lucid..

Have you ever noticed a painter at work? Let’s say he is painting your backyard, the one with those shabby bushes and the beautiful tree house. He never paints it as it is. If that’s what is required, then a photograph is enough. He introduces a slight variation in colors, texture and lighting, as his mood and hand permit. This is because he sees it from his mind’s eye, which gives an extra dimension to the whole picture and his hand transmits that extra nuance into the painting.

That’s what is required of writers as well. Only if you train your writer’s eye can you develop your unique style. The ‘unique’ is important, but not mandatory, as long as you don’t set out to be the next Wodehouse (we all would if we could!). To make your writing enjoyable and exciting, there has to be a silent punch (that can be personal, informative or just plain factual punch) in every part of your writing. So, the next time you write, see to it that it doesn’t just reflect your thoughts, but also your style.

 

2.    Read, Read, Read.

People who have been reading books from childhood have a decided advantage over their book-ignorant counterparts – they have better vocabulary, clearer grasp over the usage of the language and a sharper sense of perception. Prolonged reading over the years hones your ability to differentiate between good writing and bad writing – the one thing that is probably the most important trait a writer should possess. It doesn’t matter if you like only Archies or Asterix. However, if you have never been an avid reader, don’t despair. It is never too late to start good reading habits.

Take me, for example. I have never been to China in my life, but I know what ancient Chinese landlords had for their lunch after a heavy day’s hunting. How? Pearl S. Buck. So reading has one more advantage: It allows you to know about places and things that might never be in your reach – except in words.  James Hadley Chase wrote hundreds of books about the American world – without ever visiting it (He went there only twice to give lectures in a university – after he became famous through his books).

 

3.  Time, the Writer’s Best friend (or worst enemy)

The only way to make time is to prioritize. If you want to write, then you have to find time to write. Don't expect anyone else make time for you.  It is not only impossible but also immature and unfair. And in order to follow a time schedule, you must have discipline. A writer's greatest enemy is procrastination, and it wins far too often.

Taking an hour out of the day, and sticking to that time, is the best way to ‘find’ time. Filter out the useless, unwanted activities in your daily schedule to come up with some quality time you can spend in writing. Wake up an hour early, miss your favorite sitcom, cut the time in chat, or come home early from the mall.  You should be able to find one hour daily that you can dedicate to writing.

4.  Practice, practice and more practice

You are not a writer until you write. Chant this about 100 times every day. I know a score of people who can talk for hours about the joy and pain of writing, but have never written more than a page in their lives. If you can’t find anything to write about, just start typing about your day in your journal. The only difference between a good writer and a bad one is practice.

The ‘practice daily’ regime I told you about could even be done with your biology assignment. Experiment with your homework. The next time you get an assignment, do it with your own words, instead of information from the study book. Term papers and assignments are an excellent way to improve your writing because they provide you the style which will become your unique signature as you mature, and possibly give you the practice material (not to mention praises from your teachers!). Instead of using downloaded reference material for your assignment, first study the information and try writing it in your style, from a slightly different angle.

5.  Always carry a small notepad and a pen with you.

You never know when your muse is going to strike! Many great ideas have been born in life’s most difficult and incomprehensive circumstances. If you always carry a notepad, you will be able to jot down ideas as they occur to you. Or you could use a small recorder instead, if you don’t mind strange or inquisitive glances (for some, it is an embarrassing distraction).

Handheld recorders are great! You can point it under somebody’s nose and start asking questions, wherever you are, whatever you (or they) are wearing. I once went for a walk in the park and saw some gypsies selling bead jewelry. I immediately interviewed them and they responded eagerly. It was also quicker because I am sure I couldn’t have jotted down all they said in a little notebook. It took me just four days to structure the feature and I sold it in the very next week!

Of course, that’s from an acute commercial angle, but having a recorder means letting your mouth speak instead of your hands, which can be more spontaneous and lucid.  

6.  Have a goal

Success is never assured without a goal, and the writing field is no exception. If you want to be a good writer, then you should write daily. But if you want to be a successful (read: autographs, bank balance, Hollywood) writer, then you have to set out solid goals, ones that you will diligently follow. Research reveals that setting a goal, writing it down, and viewing it daily makes you achieve your goal more quickly and efficiently than otherwise. The best way is to prepare a time chart* and post it in your study or bedroom. Looking at a time schedule will boost your activity factor and urge you to act faster, and not procrastinate.

(* For more information about the timetable, visit www.angeladion.com. Subscribe for their free newsletter, and get the free pdf download 4 Steps To Publication, where Angela Dion gives you the perfect goal setter timetable.) 

Make specific goals, instead of generic ones. Let your goal be to write four pages per day, instead of ‘I will write every day.’ And make goals realistic. You might start by observing your neighborhood and developing the flair for identifying and structuring news. Aim for the local magazines first and them move up. As they say, slow and steady is the magic formula for writing success.

I have to warn you that more than anything else, writing needs passion. If you don’t love writing, you can’t produce material that will be loved by others. It’s that simple. If you want to be a writer because you are next door to Stephen King or you see writing the easy way to instant money and fame, forget it. You won’t make it, except maybe for a very short time.

If you want to write because you burn to write, then go ahead. The world always has a place for people who write with passion.