ShortbreadStories: The Blog

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Writing Words of Wisdom

/by Fiona Smith/

Despite the publishing industry changing, there are still some fundamental truths about writing which hold true. We’ve shared with you a number of blogs and articles written by some very wise people.  These wise people, are writers, publishers, and in some cases rather esteemed authors, all sharing with you their words of wisdom.

Let’s start with the one of the most prolific authors out there; Rosmunde Pilcher. She wrote an article for us a few years back, and it’s teeming with advice for anyone who wishes to embrace short story writing. She states:

Writing a short story is a bit like catching a butterfly. The butterfly appears, hovers, disappears, emerges again. If you grab it, it will disintegrate. It has to be coaxed, gently, into a butterfly net. A short story should be like very rough sketch for a painting. The background – an urban skyscape, a mountain, a cove, a house – is drawn with a few lines. In the foreground are the figures, three possibly, no more. These have been drawn in more detail, but are still simply sketched.

She advises writing the story in one sitting, so that the ideas are fresh and complete. Then once it’s finished, leave the manuscript in a drawer for a few days, as this provides the writer with perspective. After a little breather give the story a re-read and an edit. Having some time away from the story should mean on the second read you’ll pick up on any details which don’t ring true to the character or situation.

In March, author of Animal Attraction, Jenna McClure, shared with us her ‘Three Rules for making it as a Writer’. The most important being:

1. If you want to get published, you actually have to write.

As obvious as this sounds, it is very good advice. Many of us have brilliant ideas – however actually becoming a published author requires the discipline to get that idea down on paper. Writing a novel isn’t easy and Jenna took the time to reassure us of this:

“Bah, writing is like taking candy from a baby,” some say. Really? Then why doesn’t everyone do it? Why haven’t you spent the countless hours, days, weeks, months, or even years in my case, to actually sit down and write your book? Because it’s a LOT harder than it sounds. Ask any author, published or aspiring, how much writing a book is like taking candy from a baby, and most of them (except probably for Nora Roberts, who is as prolific a writer as rabbits are breeders) will tell you those people who said it was easy were LYING!

This leads me on to a collaborative word of wisdom from Shortbreaders Erica Brooks and Eliza Langland. Writing is hard and it can be very solitary – so whenever you get the chance it’s always a good idea to connect with other writers. And often these connections can lead to very inspiring stuff indeed. In a collaborative blog piece based on correspondence from ShortbreadStories about how to get past writer’s block, Erica produced this little pearl of wisdom:

“He remembered that his first story, the perfect one, hadn’t existed either before he wrote it, and that he hadn’t known, when he’d started it, anything about it at all. He’d started it without a single thought of metaphor or characterization, or any of those other things that were so good about it. But the thing was, he’d written it. So he sat down with a blank sheet of paper and wrote “Once upon a time” or “The cat yawned and stretched” or maybe “Morag hadn’t killed her husband yet, and she was very proud of herself”, or maybe something else. And each sentence that he wrote posed a question, and the answer was the next sentence, which then asked a question of its own. And so he was writing again, because he was.”

The hardest part of writing is simply to begin. Leave the laundry in the washing machine, ignore the phone call from the SuperFast&VeryCheap Broadband Provider, abandon the dishes in the sink, switch off the T.V, the iPad, the Kindle, and all those shiny electronic things we think we need, and just write. Aside from all those things made to distract us, the biggest thing any writer needs to overcome is fear.

Fear that the first sentence won’t be as good as the last, or that the characters will be wooden, or the plot clichéd, fear that our mind will simply go…. Blank. When this happens remember that no-one is perfect. All those wonderful books sitting on your shelf taunting you, those books didn’t start off wonderful; they started off with someone sitting down and overcoming fear. They became perfect because of discipline, hard work and a magic fairy godmother (known to some as an Editor).

So once you’ve gotten rid of distraction and fear, and written a book where do you go from here? Isn’t the Publishing Industry dead in the water? No. In January we learned from Publisher Insider Adrian Searle that despite the Publishing Industry declaring books are dead, there are some, like Adrian, who are hoping to buck this trend. His advice to all would-be-novelists?

Don’t expect to make a living as a writer. Very, very few writers achieve full-time status. Most have other sources of income. The level of success required to ‘give up the day job’ is beyond the vast majority of authors, whether commercial or literary. However, with a bit of sacrifice, it is perfectly possible to have dual careers running in parallel. Being a published writer won’t necessarily make you rich but it may open doors to other interesting and occasionally lucrative opportunities.

However it’s not all doom and gloom for anyone looking to find an audience for their writing. There may not be riches involved, but there certainly is a sense of accomplishment to be found in sharing stories. Jamie Grover, author of Just Like Damn Magnets, reminds us of the virtue of actually finishing a story.

I listened to an interview with Sir Bob Geldof last week. He was discussing the question of whether a song has ever been written if nobody has ever heard it.  This rang true with me. I, like many of you, have pieces of paper, bus tickets, fag packets etc etc scrawled with ideas for stories, but what I have always found difficult is finishing things off and even more so polishing them..  When I first came across ShortbreadStories I found something that would force me into drafting my stories (Frank Zappa calls this ‘putting the eyebrows on’). Once my work was uploaded and read, it finally came into being.

ShortbreadStories Editor Sandra Ireland also understands the courage it takes to make that leap from a bottom-drawer scribbler to a ShortbreadStory Sharer:

It takes a lot of courage to unearth your precious and personal scribblings and present them to strangers to be read and edited, to be judged and commented upon. That’s why a community like Shortbread is invaluable. It gives everyone, regardless of experience, a chance to put their work out there and get something back, whether that’s interesting feedback, constructive criticism or simply the knowledge that your story has brightened someone’s day. Appreciative comments can boost a writer’s confidence no end.

So our ‘words of wisdom’ in a nutshell?

Short stories are like sketches and butterflies, to write a book you have to write a book, the publishing industry may just survive to live another day – but don’t expect to be paid for your genius, writer’s block can be overcome by ignoring all distraction, and remember that no book started off perfect. ShortbreadStories encourages writers to “put the eyebrows on”, and perhaps the MOST important discovery of today… editors are magic. Indeed.

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