Lessons we learn as we write

I am enjoying working with our writers from India. There are many reasons for this. I remember how I was when I started…when I thought writing was easy, until I tried to give it to other people to read and they told me truthfully, what they thought of it.

I recall some very painful moments throughout that process. But they were turning points. They made me work on my writing until I feel confident that what I write is worth reading.

There is only one-way to describe the way I feel about my novel that is about to come out….incredibly proud. My description of the process that got me to this point is dogged determination. I refused to allow myself to give up when people sneered at what I wrote or when they ignored it. In fact, the silences were worse than the sneering because few of us like to be told something is not good. However, silence is worse because you imagine what people are not saying. It might be way off base but I can assure you the imagination knows how to magnify the worst many times over.

So now, we are preparing to send ‘Bend with the Wind’ out to reviewers. I know there will be some who disagree with my argument, with the thesis I present. That will not trouble me at all. While I have a perspective, it won’t necessarily be other people’s. However, I know I have worked hard to get the facts right and to tell the story in a compelling way. I know there will be critics out there and that is fine. What matters is how I feel about the work and I am very comfortable with it.

That is what separates this experience from past times. I have always known in my heart of hearts, I could have done a better job, that my writing was stilted and that my proof reading left a lot to be desired.

So why am I enjoying working with our new writers so much? I love their commitment and determination to keep working at their craft and I feel honoured to be part of that process. It also reminds me of how far I have come and that doesn’t hurt.

Here are some tips I am getting to discover as I work with them.

  1. The names we give our characters tells the reader something about them. What do we think a person with the name Scarlet might be like? How about Sarah?
  2. The other thing I often do is give people a list of questions to ask themselves as they write. These questions are my five ‘w’ questions and one ‘h’ question:
    1. What?
    2. Why?
    3. Who?
    4. When?
    5. Where?
    6. How?

I often use these when I get stuck in a story.

  1. If a character has done something, like drink himself into a stupor, telling the story of how he got to that point and where he might go from there is resolved as the writer answers these questions. ‘What’ also prompts the writer to answer various questions around appearance and actions. ‘Who’ also should prompt the writer to dig deeper into the character’s personality and bring out characteristics that explain his or her behaviour. It should also mean that the people around this main character also have believable and recognisable qualities.

At every point in our lives, we have a back-story. This back-story shapes us as we move through life. So every writer can hint at that story without giving vast amounts of detail. That back-story will explain the kinds of relationships the character forms and the kinds of things he or she does.

Mastery of story is all about giving a character a full, three-dimensional personality and presence on the page, one that is believable and can even explain why someone has drunk himself into a stupor and lies passed out on the street. It did not just happen. Things occurred that led to that moment and at any time, that same character can have an epiphany and change direction.

It happens all the time.


I wish all our writers the very best. They are wonderful people. They write well and they are discovering that the skills they master as storytellers also will prove invaluable whenever they write non-fiction. Writing well is all about detail, anticipating the reader’s questions and answering them.




story telling
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