If someone tells you they can teach you to write, run a mile. If they ask you for money to teach you to write, run two miles. Keep your cash in your pocket. You have all the talent you need to write, although to begin with your three biggest writing talents may be a bit rusty. All you need is imagination, observation and determination. You probably already use those talents every day, and every one of them can be built up and improved.
The most important of your three talents is imagination. Once we leave school and don’t need to think up excuses for not doing our homework, our imagination pretty much goes onto the back-burner. Get back into the fantasy habit. Those precious few moments before you drop off to sleep at night are made for letting your mind wander. For the sake of relaxation, don’t make your thoughts too plot-heavy! As I said last time, keep a notebook and pen next to your bed so you can jot down ideas in the middle of the night. You might think you’ll remember them when you wake, but the chances are you won’t.
Observation is the second skill you need to work on. Train yourself to notice details. Watch and listen all the time. Readers are fascinated by the little things that inspire, intrigue or infuriate everyone. Does every snail shell coil the same way? Find out. How can you put into words the special quality of summer air before a storm? Try. Snippets like these will make your readers say “Wow! I never noticed that before, but you’re right!”
If you see something interesting while you’re out and about, take pictures with your phone or tablet. Add a descriptive title, and upload them to your Instagram or Tumblr account. When I was working in Bristol on Struggle and Suffrage—Women’s Lives, I took loads of photographs to help with my research. Some of them were later chosen by my editors to appear in the finished book. It goes to show that you never know when something will come in useful!
The third of your special talents is determination. You’ve got to stick with your writing project right to the end. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and it’s exactly the same with writing. Excitement at writing or typing the words Chapter One gets you started. Enthusiasm for your story will push you on a long way. Elation at reaching the fifty-thousand word mark will spur you on toward the finishing line. It’s not those milestones that are the problem. It’s the tricky slack water between those points where you’ll need all your determination to see you through.
Have you started writing yet? How far have you got?