This is a guest post by Jessica Baverstock, an Aussie writer currently living in Beijing, China. Jessica read my newsletter discussing how we writers get our knickers all wound up in our stories last month and it inspired her to write about her own stories. The process of which was not only entertaining, but enlightening and worthy of sharing. So here you go. And thanks, Jessica!
1. Observe – Make a note of the stories you tell.
I am a failure as a writer.
Sure, I love to write and I have the eccentricities down pat – but I can't actually call myself a writer. You see, I've never had anything published. The closest I've ever come was at 19 when I had a poem read out on the radio. Since then I've endured a distinct silence of recognition.
And rightly so. I have nothing worth submitting. I have no polished manuscript sitting in a slush pile waiting to be discovered. I have no polished manuscript at all! I never finish projects. I have notebooks full of scribbled ideas, a bookshelf full of first drafts and several unfinished 2nd drafts languishing in a dark computer folder somewhere – but nothing actually finished.
So you see, I'm a failure as a writer.
2. Write About It – Pull your story apart.
As stories go, this is demoralizing right from the first sentence. While the statements of 'accomplishment' themselves are true, the conclusions inferred are depressingly skewed.
It does, however, give one a feeling of security. If you've already declared yourself a failure, then no one can be disappointed in you no matter what the outcome of your efforts. It's the same reason why people who are prone to falling find lying on the ground oddly comforting – at least you can't fall any further. In this case, by declaring yourself a failure, it pre-empts someone else implying it or saying it outright.
Declare yourself a writer, on the other hand, and people will immediately expect proof. 'What have you written?' 'Have you been published?' 'Can I read some of your work?' Using the above story, you've given them all the proof they need. After such a tirade, who in their right mind is going to ask to see your work?
3. Assign it to a Character – Use your story as one of your character's stories.
I am assigning this story to Shelly – a character in a novel I'm currently working on.
Shelly is bubbly, insightful and kind – always quick to point out the accomplishments and worth of others. However, as soon as she opens her mouth with this story, we realise she is not as kind to herself.
She's nursing a very personal disappointment. Her dream from childhood was to be a writer, to publish stories and see her name in print. But it never happened. She reads articles about younger people who have achieved their writing dream – how their insight into human nature, their turn of phrase, their attention to detail contributed to their success – and realises she hasn't reached the height of quality necessary to accomplish a similar feat.
She reminds herself that such dreams are childish – don't all young girls want to be ballerinas and all young boys want to be astronauts? The fact is, the world is filled with an infinite array of different occupations. This must prove that at some point in a person's development, childish dreams fall by the wayside to allow new understandings of life and the world emerge. Such is what happened in her case.
However, on the bookshelf next to her bed are several colorful journals, written in from her childhood onward and so precious to her that she cannot part with even one of them. And every morning, over breakfast, she writes in her journal about the wonderful characters and stories she dreamed of the night before.
Now isn't that the sign of a true writer?
4. Consider All the Elements – Look for the main elements, characters, themes, plot, action.
From a storytelling point of view, the only way this story can progress is for the storyteller to effect a complete change of attitude. Currently it's a 'dead end' tale. The words "never", "nothing" and "failure" do not move forward. They do not hold promise of more and better to come. They sit limp, heavy and stubborn on the page – refusing to allow any plot or action to follow.
In order for the plot to develop further, the character must step up and take action. Although the catalyst which starts a story is usually out of a character's control, the character should be the one to make the decision to launch into the next chapter – to spark off the journey which we long to read about.
Therefore this character must change her tune – she must transform her theme from 'failure' to 'opportunity.'
And this can all be done starting with one very simple word – yet.
"I have never had anything published." Yet.
"I have nothing worth submitting." Yet.
5. Write a New Story
I am a writer. I haven't had anything published yet because I'm working through what I like to call my 'apprenticeship.'
I've worked on many different stories, genres, characters and plots – learning along the way. I'm finding my distinctive voice, discovering the tricks to storytelling, creating collections of ideas, instituting schedules, building friendships and practicing the art of writing itself.
One day I will produce polished work worthy of submission. Until that time, I am thoroughly enjoying my journey – for without it I would never accomplish my dream.
Jessica Baverstock had her first run in with the writing life when, at age 3, she met her father's typewriter. Ever since, she's been passionate about putting words on paper, dreaming one day of making it to publication. She can be found at her blog, Creativity's Workshop, where her Creativity is featured as a real character – writing in distinctive purple text.