What do writers do all day? Well, obviously, we write. But we also do a lot of other things in order to be able to write, and to make a living out of writing.
All writers read. It’s inevitable. Most of us are writers precisely because we love to read, because words are our ‘thing’. It would be truly weird, therefore, if we didn’t devour words at every opportunity. And if we are looking to be published, it helps to know what contemporary writing looks like. While we all have our individual style or voice, it wouldn’t be helpful for our writing to sound like, for example, Chaucer or Austen or Wodehouse – every era has its language, and anachronisms don’t generally get published. A 21st century writer needs to write like a 21st century writer.
Most writing requires research. At the very least, a writer needs to fact-check. Fiction may originate in the mind of the writer, but in order for the reader to suspend disbelief and enter into the story, the facts need to be right because if they are wrong, it jars. Journeys need to take the right amount of time. Police procedures need to be correct. Medical details must be accurate. Characters need to speak and behave in a way that’s authentic to the time and place of the story. The science needs to be right.
I mostly write non-fiction, so research is a major part of what I do. Even when I am taking a creative, imaginative or whimsical approach, the facts have to be properly researched. A lot of my topics are historical, so I am applying the academic research skills I acquired while studying history at postgraduate level, not only exploring the ‘facts’ but also how those facts have been interpreted through time.
Getting out there
The publishing industry – whether magazines or books, online or in print – is a mysterious world which any writer who wishes to make a living simply has to get to grips with. As well as the necessary but tedious self-employment tasks of invoicing, accounts and tax returns, a writer has to learn the ins and outs of the industry: how to pitch, whom to pitch to, what the protocols are, which avenues are a waste of time and which are worth pursuing. There are no short-cuts to learning this – it takes time and effort.
A significant part of being a writer (rather than someone who writes) is the publicity and networking which is part of the profession. In practice, much of this now takes place online, and I need to spend some time every week keeping on top of this. As well as this blog, I am active on Twitter (and to a much lesser extent on Instagram and Facebook). I find Twitter is the place where I network with other writers, find out about events and opportunities, interact with literary agents and publishers, follow up research interests, and tell the world when I’ve posted a new blog post. I have got several writing gigs as a direct result of being on Twitter, and it’s more than worth the 20-30 minutes I invest in it most days.
Yesterday, I attended a professional development event at the National Centre for Writing (which conveniently for me is located just down the road in Norwich). It was led by Leena Norms, and was entitled ‘Creating an online presence for your writing’. Whilst it might go against the grain for those writers who wish to practice their art in solitude in a garret or writing shed, aloof from the world and commercial concerns, the reality for a jobbing writer is that we have to be our own publicists in order to get, and sell, work, so it makes sense to learn how to do it as effectively as possible. Leena’s approach is simple, effective and cuts through the mystique that surrounds social media in the creative industries, and although I was already doing much of what she suggested, I now feel better equipped for this aspect of my work. After all, writing is all very well, but I want to get my writing out there and being read!
Ah, yes – writing! This is, of course, what it’s all about, the one thing I really want to be doing with my life. However, it will be apparent from everything I’ve just said that it’s not enough by itself. The reading, the research, the social media work, and the engagement with the industry, and the self-employment tasks all underpin the writing itself.
I will post another time about the writing process itself – my writing process, because no two writers are the same. But for now, I’ll just say this: I think a lot more than I write. I call it ‘percolating’ because, like coffee, the slow process of ideas becoming infused with reading and research, and forming something new that is complex, nuanced and interesting, takes time. I probably think for at least 2 hours for every hour spent actually writing.
The Three Hares Blog
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