(Reproduced under Creative Commons, with thanks to Kalexanderson)
Writing has always felt easy to me. Give me five minutes, an open notebook and a decent pen and I will dream up characters or stories from nowhere. My writing class tutor was fond of giving us such exercises. Most of my classmates groaned and moaned but I loved these exercises. The only problem is that once the time limit was over I closed my notebook and rarely returned to those pages.
Last year I took (another) evening writing class which focused on the discipline of writing. One important lesson I took away from this was that writing is a skill that needs worked on. The magic muse fairy doesn’t just land on your desk and give you a brilliant idea. It might take weeks, months, years to hit that mark that makes your writing good. Lionel Shriver has often shrewdly remarked that it took her over twenty years to become an overnight success with We Need To Talk About Kevin. What did she spent that twenty years doing? Why, practising writing.
So I’m going to shuffle a little uncomfortably here and tell you how I practise writing. Sometimes it’s at six o’clock in the morning, grumpy and sleepy with a little timer ticking away. Sometimes it’s sitting in a busy place with lots of people traffic (trains and coffee shops remain some of my favourite places to write).
And sometimes it’s spent lurking in fan fictiondom.
My first steps into the writing world took place in the form of fan fiction. When I fall for a TV show, I fall hard. When the final episode ends and the credits roll up, I sometimes want more. ‘What happened to that minor character shot at the end of episode three?’ I cry. ‘Whose hand was dialling that number?’ (Points to whoever can identify that pop culture reference). Then the cogs start ticking away in my brain and stories start appearing. I can almost hear my writing tutor saying ‘You have five minutes – go!’
Working with existing characters and storylines can be useful if I’m stuck for words (a rare occurrence but it happens). It can also help with finding your steps in the writing world: what works and what does not. When researching this topic, @lunaquarterly remarked on how writing fan fiction left you free to work on crafting a story, without worrying about fiddly bits such as characters, plotline and all the other stuff that can sometimes get in the way of just writing.
Personally I am amazed at how quickly some writers of fan fiction get their work up on websites. Some sprawling tales with thousands of words chalked up are only weeks old. Many of my writing friends are familiar with procrastination and tinkering with a story, over and over. One of the perks of having never ending deadlines. Yet many fan fiction writers update their stories on a weekly basis which means they’ve been getting the job done.
So, dear reader, I have been writing and lurking and writing and posting up my work. This week I have written almost 5, 000 words borrowing characters (but then, aren’t all writers borrowers? Something to muse on in another blog post) from an existing story. I’ve enjoyed playing with these characters, working on my writing weaknesses and trying to improve on them.
After all, practise makes perfect. Doesn’t it?