If there’s a reason this blog exists, it’s because they say write what you know. But that’s a slippery expression because it’s vague: “know”… meaning what? Some people interpret it to mean you shouldn’t write stuff you don’t have first-hand experience of, but i hope it’s obvious that’s ridiculous advice.
I propose an alternative, that we side-step the whole “know” thing as not very helpful. Instead:
Write what you want.
That is, write the thing that you wish existed. There’s almost certainly something like that, for everyone. Maybe there’s already lots of fantasy stories with dragons in there, but they don’t do dragons the way you want to see them done. So write the dragons you want to read about.
Okay. More on that topic later, probably. Here’s what I want: it’s 2018 and it’s much easier than ever before to share our lives with the world. And what I want as a person learning to be a professional novelist is not more advice on how to write—because I’m buried under a heap of it even as I type this, send help—but a glimpse of what it looks like for someone to do this, to struggle against the forces, almost entirely internal, that make “being a writer” so difficult.
So “write what you want” means I’m writing about the journey. Not because what I did yesterday or today or tomorrow is so goddamn interesting for its own sake. But because, hopefully, someday I can point to this pile and say, there. You want to know what it was like for me to become a writer? That’s what it was like. And it might / will definitely be different for you, but there’s at least one thing in that pile you can relate to.
That’s a mission statement, if you like, for why this blog exists, and maybe I’ll edit it for style and length and put it on an About page… another day. For now, I want to describe this idea I’m calling a Scenebook.
Put it all out there
It mostly happens when I’m taking a walk. And nothing else, not looking at my phone, not listening to music or a podcast, just walking. My mind wanders, and I always come up with ideas. Sometimes just one, sometimes plenty, and some of them are these ideas for scenes that just pop fully-formed into my head. But they aren’t necessarily related to the projects I’m working on at the moment, they’re just these isolated bits of narrative or dialogue or description, and I think, “that’s cool, I’m going to write that down.”
I’m planning a post about the power of publishing versus just writing; if you spend years sometimes writing stuff but never finish projects, never ship, then you’re not really getting very far from where you started. Actually publishing stuff is powerful: it creates a pile, like I said above, a heap of accomplishments, and you can look at that heap and draw strength. Alongside that, I’ve said I want to share the journey, show each of the steps along this path by which an author is grown.
So what I’m going to do is, when I have these great ideas for scenes, write them out. Don’t worry too much about if there’s a story around them, if they ‘work’, if they’d get dropped in an editing pass. Write them, and publish them, and organize them into something called a Scenebook. Other people can see ‘em, and comment on them, and get ideas from them, or even copy them—though hopefully not word-for-word, because then they’re not growing themselves.
This is all in the service of making the thing I wish existed. Wouldn’t it be cool if your favourite authors had a Scenebook? Just a public set of outtakes, and, sure, they’re curated: this isn’t just shovelling every random ejaculation out the door because I think it’s so terribly special, no. It’s about sharing, but also about building the habit of publishing instead of hiding, and maybe it turns into something interesting in the bargain.
So now I’ve put the idea out there, and it’s on me to execute.