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Thursday, 31 January 2013

What Is Your Greatest Strength as a Writer, and Why?


Brits, in general, are fitted with a built-in crap-o-meter that overrides their personal pride and prevents them blowing their own horns too loudly. Yanks, we’re told, have no such inhibitions. So, as a Brit, I’m going against national stereotyping when I decide to tell you how great I am at…well, at anything at all really. But I have to get the ball rolling, if I’m to get any answers to my question. So, here goes:

I suppose my greatest strength is my ability to sit down at the keyboard, without an idea in my head, and, during an hour or so, come up with the first draft of a short story. Sometimes, of course, these stories come to nothing as they stand but will work after some fiddling. Sometimes, they simply need minor editing. Sometimes they’re completely lost causes and I toss them carelessly into the bin, recognising that at least I’ve learned something along the route to their creation.

As to why this should be the case for me; I’m at a loss to determine. But I can speculate. Let’s face it, most of what a writer of fiction does is speculation, so I should be pretty handy at that as well, I suppose.
I suspect the facility came along after I read Dorothea Brande’s excellent Becoming a Writer and actually engaged with the exercises. One of those is the suggestion that the writer should emerge from sleep a little earlier than usual, go straight to the keyboard (or pen and paper if that’s your modus operandi) and start making marks on screen or said paper. No stopping to read emails, or snail mail, no reading anything at all, no stopping for coffee, fags or any other artificial stimulant (Okay, so you’re addicted and can’t face wakefulness without your fix. Make it quick; have everything ready the night before so you’re not spending any more time than necessary at it). You are, however, allowed a post-sleep visit to the smallest room (no one operates well, creatively, with a full bladder).

Initially, the writing is simply words strung together. Soon it develops into diarist type ruminations relating to the previous day or, perhaps, a dream. But, once you’ve been doing it for a short while (you need to do this every morning for a period determined by your success or failure), you’ll start to tap into the creative aspect of your subconscious. That’s when the magic starts. Your characters come to life even as you name them, the story develops out of your experiences mingled with those themes and ideas that most engage you. And, suddenly, inexplicably, you’re writing a story. At any rate, that’s how it goes for me.

I urge you to try it. But read the book first. There’s more to it than my simple explanation, and a little preparation is also necessary before you embark on this adventure. Also, Dorothea helpfully explains why it’s necessary to do it her way.

Of course, your own particular strength may mean that you have no need of such exercises. You may be brilliant, superbly creative, never short of ideas, always raring to go with some new project. If that’s so, or whatever your strength is as a writer, please share it with us. The comments box is just below and it’s begging you to fill the space: we all know how nature abhors a vacuum.

Next week I’ll look at weaknesses.

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