I’m going to say no, you don’t actually need to write that well to be a good writer (yea, I phrased the title the other way solely to annoy people, sorry).
Since the advent of email, most of us write something every day. Some keep it short and sweet; some are quite verbose (that is, using more words than are needed). I’m probably the latter – sometimes I just like to write.
When I was about fifteen, I wrote what I called at the time a book, but later education informed me was a short story (not even a novella!). I wrote it longhand on my parent’s dining room table, and it took me a whole day (which is why I insisted at the time it was a book). Once Kindle Direct Publishing became a thing a good few years later this was the perfect book, sorry, short story, to test the waters of self-publishing.
After a while, the first, and to date only, review popped up, and read as follows:
“This is a well-written, well-edited, short story…The plot is very simple, and the storyline develops very quickly. However, the author obviously never intended the hero, villain, leading lady, setting, or nautical aspects to have even a passing swipe at reality and for me, that is to the detriment of this book. It is also written in a very simple manner as if for older children or teenagers, again something I felt detracted from the book. This is a shame as the author has real talent with words and presentation.” (Three Stars)Chopper(!)
Some people might view that review as a bit harsh, but it remains my absolute favourite review of anything I’ve ever done – because it is 100% accurate. My research for this historical pirate adventure was watching Errol Flynn in both Captain Blood AND The Sea Hawk. That’s kind of it. But the two bits I tend to focus on, for obvious reasons, are:
- This is a well-written, well-edited, short story,
- [T]he author has real talent with words and presentation.
What more could any (real) author want?
A book (yea, short story) that I wrote a few years later, was, I thought anyway, a lot more original, and just generally better. The sole review on that pleased me, but nowhere near as much as the back-handed compliment I took from the other:
“I really liked this story; its vivid characters and unusual storyline will be hard to forget.” (four stars!)
In all honesty, if someone gets hold of one of my fiction books and doesn’t complain about it, I see that as a win! Even in the absence of reviews, I do know for a fact that people have downloaded a different title some time after the first – so my style must appeal to some people.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Anyone my age plus or minus a few years will remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books – I have a couple of some Indiana Jones “Find Your Fate Adventure” books which are the same principle (and are basically just Fan Fiction). To me, that’s all creative work actually is – choosing your own adventure. YOU get to decide what happens next.
The common factor with everything I’ve written is that I had an idea and ran with it. I wrote for the sake of writing, and to this day I will occasionally sit down and read (and enjoy) things I’ve done – my imagination probably editing them into something better than they are.
“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”Cyril Connolly.
Having real-life adventures (even before Covid-19) was easier for some than others. You may be restricted by money, location, opportunity, and any number of different commitments. Writing allows you to do and be whatever, and go wherever, you like!
Keep Your Notes In One Place
I have so many empty notebooks lying around it isn’t even funny, but I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to ‘spoil’ them by writing in them. As a result, I have archive boxes full of old envelopes, payslips and other scraps where I’ve written ideas and thoughts. I’m starting to transfer them over into a nice notebook, but it would be much cooler if I could sit with a cuppa tea and just read through old (full) notebooks!
Twenty years ago, when I was still on my cartooning kick, I did a whole series of cartoons about a rock band, and despite not being musical I thought it would be cool to write them an album of songs.
On a bus ticket, in a box (I hope) are the rest of the verses to what I considered then (and now!) to be passable lyrics for a cheesy rock band:
She was brought in on a misdemeanor
But she was guilty of a greater crime
She had bitten off the hand that feeds her
She’d been playing with the hands of time
I should have known there was something about her
I should have seen it in the way she stood
She was hovering two feet above the ground
And she had white fangs dripping with blood…
The accompanying ‘album’ image was going to be the band dressed in 1930s New York police uniforms. The lead singer was the desk sergeant, watching the other two band members as police officers lead in this ethereal woman.
Now I’ve started cartooning again for relaxation purposes, I’ll might revisit the rock band, and maybe even the songs if I find them. My point, however, is that I can guarantee you that that is a long way from being the worst song ever written, in fact, the whole concept isn’t bad. Yet until I wrote this, the only person who knew about it was me – and that’s OK.
For a few pounds now you can get something you’ve written printed in a variety of book forms. I think ‘vanity’ publishing is a horrible term, I think it’s really cool to turn your idea into a physical form – even if you’re the only person with a copy (maybe even cooler for that reason, actually). If nothing else, you could type your notebooks up and have those published in book form.
Writing a Proper Book
During the 2020 lockdown I was furloughed like a lot of people for a time, and also like a lot of people I decided to try writing a ‘proper’ book – some crime fiction no less. My tools? No self-help book, no folders containers plot points and character descriptions and backstories, no hours hunched over a laptop. I sat in my backyard with a 2019 desk diary that I got from work but never used, and a pen.
I got about a third of the way in (definitely novel territory!), the plot took some twists and turns, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Will anyone else ever see it? Possibly, but probably no one that I know. The problem with telling someone that you have written something is they may actually offer to read it! Then you get into the awkward territory of “so… what did you think of it?” Maybe I’m just scared they won’t like it and it will destroy my confidence. Maybe I’m scared they will like it and I’m just incapable of accepting praise.
Ultimately, if you write for yourself, you should always end up writing something YOU enjoy. If you don’t, well there really isn’t much point. No, it may not be technically well written (mine aren’t), but neither are a lot of published books! So, watch a couple of your favourite movies, get a pad and a pen, and mould a knock-off into something that ends up being quite original. Works for me.
Have Your Own Adventure
With some nice weather here again, I’m sitting in my backyard on a day off work with a bottle of Strawberry and Lime Kopparberg, my 2019 Q8 Oils diary, and a pen I got for my birthday. I’ve read what I wrote last summer and am wondering what I want to happen next. It’s a great way to have an adventure without going anywhere…