Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How I discovered writing and the first lessons I learned from it

Let me get to the reason for this blogs existence: writing about writing.

I have to admit that I started the blog a little late, so I will have to bring you up to date, starting at the beginning.

As I said before, my gran is a published author, so I have been writing for as long as I could write. It started with little short sentences and later extended to imitating whatever my gran was writing. If she wrote a child's story, I wrote a child's story. But I was about ten when I started to become a writer.

Ok... before I continue, I have to explain what I think it means to be a writer. By my definition, a writer is a person who has come to the realization that they are not happy unless they have written something. It can be anything. Poetry (making you a poet), songs (lyricist), writing about your day, anything. I believe that all people can be writers, the difference being whether they just want to write or whether they actually do sit down and start something. Whether they finish it is another thing, but I'll get to that soon.

Anyway, back to my original line of thought. At aged ten, our family vacation took me to Namaqualand in the Northern Cape. While there, the technicolour carpets of millions and millions of flowers had me waxing lyrical for hours and hours. (Even as a child the strangest things fascinated me.) We drove past an orange and yellow field and I exclaimed that it looked as if the sun had fallen. My grandmother (the writer and my ever-patient sounding board, but by now very tired of my girlish exclamations) challenged me to do something with what I had seen. So I started stringing rhymes together and my gran, thinking that what I said was very cute, gave me a pen and paper. She explained the idea of separating ideas into stanzas and left me to it. Voila, I had written my first poem. Today, the snatches I remember aren't really that good, but it gave me my first taste of the joys of recreating what was on my mind. It also led me to my first attempt at writing a book: a poetry anthology about the places I had seen.

In the end I had written about six poems in total before other pursuits (such as playing with my cousin Rynerie and school) took over my attention. Still, my gran was encouraging me to write poems and entering them into competitions and I gave the bug to Rynie as well. Soon, when we couldn't play outside or got tired of our games, we'd write little stories and poems. One of our stories actually was adapted and used in a special church sermon and some of our poems won us prizes. Over the years, both of us won prizes that got us published in mixed anthologies and magazines etc. Where and how many though, I can't tell you, since I was too young to be bothered to keep track.

Aged thirteen, I was reading a Western when this gunslinger walked into my head and I started realizing that I had to write his entire family's story before I could get to his. This became the first book I ever tried to write. I had the entire series of thirteen books planned down to the characters' birthdays, their children's names and their birthdays. Sadly it was riddled with disasters. First, after I was past halfway through the first book, more than three quarters of what I had written was wiped. Luckily the notes survived. Seeing this as Providence, I decided to start it again. I was happy that I did, since the quality of my work was much better. I was about a quarter of the way when my gran's computer broke and my mom took out my mother board to replace it with my gran's. They didn't ask because they thought I had a backup copy. I didn't and hours of work is currently residing somewhere in our garage.

First lesson of being a serious writer: ALWAYS MAKE BACKUPS!!!

Demoralized by this set-back, I gave up and resumed with what I knew best, poetry. To be honest, poetry is a much better way to spend time when in school and at university, since it tends not to take up so much time. However, since it has been four years since I paid attention to this bit of advice, I shall promptly suggest you ignore me. Any way. Somewhere along the way I discovered fantasy and by the time I was sixteen, I was writing a book again. This one was a lot darker than anything else I have ever written. It still is, but I was hooked, making this my third attempt at a book. Unfortunately, I was and still am my worst critic. When I say this, I mean that I always find something wrong or to be inferior. So... twenty chapters in, in what I can only call a hissy-fit with myself, I deleted the entire book and started again, with planning, notes, drawings, the works. I had written about fourty chapters of the second version, when I came to a horrific realization: the book was far too dangerous to release on the unsuspecting minds of my young readers... I gave it to a friend of mine to read without explaining what I felt and she had the same opinion. So... I stopped the project dead in its tracks, deleting everything on my computer and burning anything on paper.

Lesson two: Never edit or censor yourself while writing.
Lesson three: Never start writing something you might not be completely comfortable with. If you can't justify your reasons for writing what you are, stop.

For an entire year, I didn't write anything, until one day, this bad-ass walks into my mind, grinning insolently as is saying: "Here I am, sweetheart. What are you going to do with me?" So, me being me, I started pondering him. Who was he? Who were his friends? Soon, I had an entire cast going. Each character with their own quirks, hopes and fears and I started planning and writing. It wasn't long after writing that I realized two things. Firstly that my characters and story were to complex to write in an explanatory way. The reader has to be led through the story. So... most of my planning flew out the window.

Lesson four: Don't get too stuck in planning, since it might get complicated....

 Secondly: my self-editing was getting worse to the point where the gears in my mind simply ceased up. Out of desperation I decided to buy myself a nice empty book and a pen. I started writing, forcing myself not to reread or strike through anything I wrote. This hand written attempt is now my sixth and current first book. It will be the one that I publish...

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