Friday, September 23, 2011

Innovate, Experiment, and Don't Let Your Mojo Die

Hi all! Today I welcome Neil Vogler to My First Book. He blogs at A Writer, He Muttered on his life as a writer, the industry and on writing tips. So if you're looking for another POV, Neil's your guy. Anyway, here he is on a post drawn from various posts on his own blog... (Makes a good sample, don't you think?)

Innovate, Experiment, and Don't Let Your Mojo Die(NB: select sections of this post have appeared before on my own blog).

I’d like to doff my cap in gratitude to Misha for giving me the chance to guest on her blog. I’m very impressed with how upbeat and supportive Misha is of the community that hangs around these parts, and how responsive and positive those that read this blog are in return. Good job, everyone. Now please don’t flay me alive in the comments…

I’ve been around the block a few times as a writer, but I have real sympathy for people who are new to the scene, and to the culture that surrounds it. I consider right now to be a very difficult time if you're a new writer -- ie you're literally just awakening to the possibility that you are someone who wants and/or needs to write. If you're thinking about writing a novel and struggling to find your voice, this must be a frankly bewildering age to live in.

Firstly you have the awesome gravity of the internet pulling at you every minute of the day, which reminds you time and again that there are millions of other voices out there and that they, depending on your mood and confidence level when you read them, have probably already got better-developed voices and far better prospects than you. Added to that, there are endless sites and articles and blogs about how to write out there (hey, including mine, sometimes!). New and aspiring writers could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed and giving up before they even start.

The information deluge is fierce, and its effects can be potent -- and in some cases, insidious. It seems that everybody and their mother’s mother has an opinion regarding how you should write and what constitutes "good" writing. There is a kind of “accepted industry knowledge model” prevalent out there regarding what is “good writing” and what isn’t, largely propagated by the huge amount of agent and publishing-insider blogs. And whilst all that advice is undeniably useful in short bursts and in the relevant context, in the long term you start to realise that not only is a lot of the advice contradictory and confusing, it’s off-putting and can absolutely drain you of all creative motivation.

As a new writer taking tentative steps on the internet you rapidly learn, for example, that adverbs are plain evil, that adjectives make your style look weak, that there are effectively innumerable rules that you should follow to be "good", to be "publishable", to be a "real writer".

I plead with you: don’t let that stuff kill your mojo. Let your mojo kill that stuff.

The truth about writing as I see it is simply this: ultimately, there are no rules. In the hands of real talent, anything goes. Anything. All that matters is you're writing a compelling story that succeeds on its own terms and makes the reader want – no, need -- to keep turning those pages.

Obviously, as a writer you have to understand the rules before you can break them, or in some cases throw them out completely. But that's the best thing about the novel as a format -- if it works for the story then it works, and structure be damned if structure is just getting in the way, or character be damned, or dialogue. Writers should not be afraid, especially at the beginning of their writing lives (and in my opinion, never at all) to experiment. Because it's only when you experiment that you start to learn where your real limitations and boundaries are.

Like many others I write in quite a cinema-influenced fashion, I think, but I am very consciously trying to do things in a novel that are unique to the medium, ie things that would never make it into a film. With a novel, you can bring levels of depth and nuance to a story that no other medium can ever hope to achieve. A novel is the most luxuriant form of story there is, and as far as I'm concerned a good one immerses and engages you like no other medium can.

You read a lot about following trends. Write to market, the advisors say, look at what's popular, figure out how you can tap into the current niche, etc etc. But no, people. That's not fine. The status quo will not suffice; that way lies stagnation for artists, and for the industry and artform as a whole.

What fiction needs in all its genres is innovators, not followers. And what readers want in every genre is to have their minds blown by a great story.

So I say: follow your instincts. Be bold. Chase down the path that excites you, not what you think the market wants. And in the first instance, write only for yourself, for your own satisfaction. And when it's all over, when the blood's dried and the pound of flesh has been safely extracted, then figure out how to sell it. Because passion sells books, and passion sells stories. Don't let the million rules that you think you should follow limit you; if they don't suit you, figure out a way around them, or through them.

Publishing is changing beyond belief. There have never been more opportunities to get a book out there, no matter how weird, bizarre, or challenging it may be. There has never been a better time to advertise the fact that your story exists. Perhaps ultimately agents can't sell it, and publishers won't sell it. But you can, if you're passionate and driven enough.

It’s all possible. That's what I believe.

Here's to freedom of experimentation... liberty of the mind… and the thrill of the new.

Thanks so much for this lovely and encouraging post!

Any new writers out there? What do you think about what Neil said? Old hands, any tips for the new writers?

Have a great weekend everyone!


  1. Hi Neil..I completely agree with you. On the internet everyone is talking about rules: write the book like this, a character should be memorable and endearing, there should be tension on every page, dialogue should be authentic. Somewhere in all this chaos, writers are getting not just overwhelmed but also feeling lost and anxious when their stories don't fit the accepted moulds.
    We have forgotten that we are writers because its our passion to write. Breaking rules is something that scares us.
    Thanks Misha for introducing us to Neil.

  2. Great post and beautifully written! :)

  3. I agree, that it can be overwhelming and there are far too many "how to" books/websites/articles/etc.. It's overwhelming and disappointing when you feel like you don't fit into the accepted mold.

    I guess what works best for me is that I write because it's what I want to do. I don't write because I think I'm going to be the next JK Rowling or Stephen King or any of the other seriously successful writers in the world. I do it because I enjoy it and the prospect of maybe making a living off of it is just the icing on cake.

  4. Rachna -- thanks a lot for your comments. Breaking the rules is daunting, but for writers, we have to remember the cardinal rule: push the envelope. I just hate that people are getting put off by all the (often contradictory) rules out there.

    Amy -- thank you very much!

    Tracy Z - writing for enjoyment is a concept that has been lost on a great deal of people nowadays. But if we didn't enjoy it, we wouldn't do it. Would we? Even when it's hell, it's still compulsive...

  5. Good post.

    If there was any one 'right way' to write a novel, it'd have been discovered by now and there wouldn't be any conflicting advice out there.

  6. Thanks Misha for having Neil on your blog. His post is excellent and I have been writing all my life and still don't have the confidence to finish my novel! I thought it was original and a good story, but like Neil implied the internet can put some sensitive writers into a blue funk even if they are experienced. I guess I'm relatively new to the world of novels and this market and being scared is ridiculous because I have the passion and it trumps my fears!

  7. Wow, how often do you read a guest post on a blog and immediately love both the blog name and all the sentiments of the poster!

    That's what happened here - and Neil I'm heading on over to your blog, though I warn you in advance I'm a seriously time-poor occasional commenter who is always running late...

  8. Terry - too true. There is absolutely no "right way". There is just the right way for you.

    Desert Rocks -- Many thanks for your comment. And you're right: passion trumps everything else.

    Adina -- What a great thing to say! I appreciate your words very much. I look forward to seeing you over at my own blog!

    As I expected, everyone over here on Misha's blog has been incredibly nice and very engaging. This has been a blast. Thanks Misha, and thanks everyone who read/ commented.

  9. Hi Neil, Hello Misha!

    Great post and so true!


  10. Hello Neil!
    Thank you for a wonderfully insightful and beautifully written post. It was so encouraging. Thank you and thank you again.

    Too many times we are bombarded by what "should be" and what "ought to be" that we shy away from what we "need" to be. This post is encouragement enough to throw all the mess out and write for the sheer joy of it.

    All the best,

  11. I am completely agree with Neil.
    Great post.
    Thanks Neil.


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