ACW

ACW

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Fundamentals by Andrew J Chamberlain

In my spare time I host a podcast for writers, called The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt. In May I released episode 100 of the podcast, and in October I’ll be publishing a book that combines all of the best advice I’ve gathered over those one hundred episodes, with insight from two dozen professional writers, artists, and editors including Christian writers like Nick Page, Bob Hartman, and Wendy H Jones.
The next few blogs from me will include some of those insights and discoveries, and I’m starting in this blog with a few words of fundamental advice – the principles people have told me are the most important things to remember. I’ve covered some of this before on the More than Writer’s blog, but it’s important stuff, and bears saying again.

1.     Understanding vs learning

The first thing relates to how we treat the great mass of creative writing advice that appears in book shops and seminars, tutorials and blogs (like this one!)
Remember when you learnt to swim, or cycle, or drive? You might have had a book to help you, especially with your driving test. You might have had advice from other people. But none of that’s worth much compared to the process if actually doing the activity and seeing how it works for us. When we learn to ride a bike, or swim, or drive, we test the advice we’ve received, to see if it makes sense AND works in practice.
We can learn what the advice is, but if it doesn’t work for us eventually we’ll dump it. It doesn’t matter where that advice has come from, how respected the source, if we don’t understand and internalise advice we discard it. So, the principle is this: find the advice that makes sense and works, and internalise it, use it. Everything else can go.

2.     Read and Write, and enjoy

Second thing. Much of the foundational hard work for improving at the craft involves two very simple tasks: reading and writing.  I know we’ve heard this all before, but it’s still true.
It’s through reading a variety of authors and authorial voices that we become aware of how voice works. It shows us that authorial voice exists, and is a powerful factor in making a piece of writing compelling and excellent. Through reading we see how other writers deal with the challenges of presenting story, creating character, immersing us in setting, and entertaining and inspiring us as readers.
It’s through reading that we begin to discern how characters can be created people that we instinctively believe in, are fascinated by, and want to spend time with. It’s through reading that we see examples of settings and worlds that are credible and immersive. We begin to understand how sparse and specific description can illustrate a world, or a universe, without giving the reader too much.
And it’s through writing that we can then try out our own voice, and like a baby learning to walk, we’ll do the literary equivalent of falling on our backsides a good few times before we begin to discover what our writing voice is.
It’s through writing that we grapple with and conquer the challenges all writers have: knowing how much to write, creating a compelling story, authentic characters, a believable setting and a consistent and engaging style and voice.

And finally the ‘enjoy’ of ‘read, writer, and enjoy’. Don’t be so focused on reading the books you think you should read that you stop enjoying reading. Once in a while read a book you love, something new from an author whose work you enjoy or maybe an old favourite, just indulge yourself!

3.     Be Authentic

Finally, be authentic. 

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of The School of Life (www.theschooloflife.com)  an organisation that promotes emotional intelligence and helps people understand themselves and the world around them.
In a recent episode on their You-tube channel, they tackled the thorny social question of “how not to be boring”. This is what they said:

“The human animal witnessed in its essence, with honesty and without artifice, is always interesting.  When we call a person boring we are just pointing to someone who has not had the courage or concentration to tell us what it’s like to be them. By contrast we invariably prove compelling when we say what we truly desire, envy, regret, mourn and dream.”

What’s true in our lives is true in our writing. If we can present characters who are honest, especially about their deepest goals, motivations, and passions, then we will present compelling characters, and a compelling story. As readers we care about authentic characters. Watching characters engage with the real issue, the real dilemma: that is always interesting.
Attaining this authenticity is hard work. It requires an effort of imagination and an effort of application to the craft, but it’s always worth it.
Applying the advice that works for us, and reading and writing widely are both principles that prepare us as writers; being authentic is the principle for when we write - the foundation of making our work compelling and dynamic.

Andrew Chamberlain is a writer and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt, a podcast that offers practical, accessible advice on the craft. A handbook based on the best advice and insight from the podcast will be published in October 2017. Andrew has published fiction and collaborated on a number of ghost-writing projects through Authentic Media, including the bestselling, 'Once an Addict' with Barry Woodward. He has also self-published a number of science fiction short stories. 






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