What I am learning by writing


Writing and me

For about a year and a half now, I’ve been writing this blog. At times, I’ve wondered why I felt the need to do so, as I wrote here, but a large part was to help me frame my thoughts more clearly. When I started, I thought I might potentially gain some friendships from likeminded people – and that is proving to be the case, which is wonderful (as has been the fact that it’s another way of sharing a bit of myself with existing friends and family, and for them to share in return).

I’ve been ambivalent about whether my writing should have a more worthwhile purpose than my confidence and my connections. I mean, it sounds a bit grand to say ‘I have a blog’ – surely I should have bigger ambitions to back these up?

I’ve wondered (and do wonder) whether I should focus on working out whether I should write with an aim of creating a financial outcome, for instance? Should I be more active in determining the blog’s focus, readability, quality and frequency to increase its ‘reach’? Could I, potentially, be no longer as reliant on my current employment?

I don’t know the answers to these questions yet – and I’m not ready to tackle them. I think, at least for a little while, I’m comfortable not to question this further but just let the writing be enough. For now, I am continuing to commit to a blog post a week (occasionally two), and trying to put to one side the question about whether I should invest more time and other resources towards it.


In the same spirit of trying and seeing how I go, I signed up as a participant in NaNoWriMo. which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an event which started in the US in 1999, and was taking up by different branches across the world since that time. The aim is to write a large portion of a first draft, through writing to a target each day, with the support of other writers (ranging from first time writers, like me, to published authors seeking to get some progress on their current work).

So, 12 days ago, with a vague idea of what I might write about, I started writing my ‘novel’. I’ve put it in quotation marks because it’s a long way from a novel at this stage. I’m now about 13,000 words into it, which is a little behind the pace to hit the 50,000 aim (set by NaNoWriMo) by the end of the month. I’ve got a bit more to go today, so we’ll see how I’m tracking by the end of the day. However, again, I’m struck by how much I am learning, just through the act of having a go:

Some of my key lessons so far:

  1. The value of observation

    I’ve set my book in Melbourne because I thought I knew it well, and I’d have a lot to tackle without dealing with a different location. I’m glad I did, because location matter (at least, to me – could be the urban planner in me). The context and the timing have a big impact in grounding the story, and how plausible it is. But in writing, I realise how much I have not noticed about the places around me. It’s opening my eyes to the details of my local area, and I’m realising it is a lot more interesting than sometimes I give it credit for.
  2. Where to focusObservation is good. But now that my eyes are opened, I realise just how much detail I could include in what I write. Not just in the physical surrounds, but in terms of the back stories to characters, how many characters to include and in what detail, and a myriad of other issues that could smother the story. I’m realising that what is left out is just as important as what is included.
  3. The importance of expression Observing is one thing – capturing it in words is another. How do you describe that emotional scene; that key thought that a character has; that particular landscape? It’s tricky, and I can now understand why some writers linger over sentences for ages. At the same time, words are fascinating, aren’t they? I’m testing new expressions – some that sound terrible, some that I think I like the sound of – and really feeling a freedom and a greater ‘colour’, for want of a better term, in what I am writing.I’m also realising, through writing, why I’ve heard writers stress the need to ‘show’, through the writing, what is happening, rather than ‘tell’. For instance, I don’t need to remind myself, or anyone who might read this, every time that a character has a particular physical attribute as, after a while it becomes really grating.

    (I think my bookclub friends will agree with me on this, as we’ve just read a Jackie Collins novel in tribute to her recent death. No disrespect meant, as the lady could clearly come up with a page turner, but wow, those repeated and flowery descriptions each time the same person reappears in the novel become really annoying!)

  4. There is no such thing as a perfect piece of writingI’ve included this point to comfort myself because I’m at a point in this ‘novel’ where it all seems very clunky and wooden. I’m not whether I’m right about perfection though. There are books I have read with sections that just resonate so strongly with me. So yes, maybe it is possible to write the perfect sentence, paragraph, chapter, book.But part of the idea of perfection comes from the reader – some of my favourite books are favourites because I read them at the right time in my life, when my mind-frame was right to absorb what the writer was trying to say. Some of my favourite books, as well, have been criticised by many other people, including the authors themselves. So maybe I mean, there is no such thing as writing which will be considered good by everyone. I’m still puzzling this out.Perfection is probably not the point, though. Sometimes if we look too closely at things, we lose perspective, and I know I can sit, struggling over a sentence, or (more to the point), questioning the logic of where this story is heading (as I am currently doing).

    One of the benefits of signing up to NaNoWriMo is the default aim of 50,000 words by the end of the month. These are not necessarily expected to be all good words (although wouldn’t THAT be amazing?) but, as I keep hearing ‘you can’t edit a blank page’. I’m not sure whether I will reach 50,000 words – I’m still trying to live my normal life, including working, getting to sport (and maybe doing some exercise myself), plus go to the Christmas break-up events that creep into November. However, if I didn’t have this as a stretch goal, I doubt I would be as far along as I now am. And I’m getting faster at writing generally, which is a relief!

  5. You don’t have to do it alone

    As I said, I’ve signed up with NaNoWriMo, and that means I have access to encouraging information (stirring articles, ‘badges’ as I complete word milestones (and a graph showing how I am tracking), the option of joining others in person to write together, and so on.I haven’t chosen to do the meet-ups (although I quite like the badges and the graphs, plus the gushy statements each time I get past a stage. It’s nice to read that ‘You’re awesome!’, even from an anonymous website!)What I have done is join a facebook group with a number of members, some of whom I’ve been getting to know over the past couple of years (leading to the blog, etc), Two authors, Allison Rushby and Allison Tait, set it up. It’s been a really lovely to read other people’s progress and frustration, challenges and triumphs. I know it makes me feel less isolated. And, occasionally, I’m here at the time when I can join the ‘sprints’, for instance, 500 words in 30 mins (#500in30), which is a great motivation. Just get it done, ok?

In summary

NaNoWriMo uses the tagline:    ‘The world needs your novel’.

I’m not so sure about that. For one thing, I don’t know what my novel is yet, so how would the world know if it needs it? Plus, it’s an experiment. No one might ever read it because either I’m not happy with it, or because, even thought I think it is ok (or great, even – here’s hoping), no one else agrees. That’s ok. For me, the world receiving my novel is not the objective.

I do know what is true, though.    I need my novel.

I need to know if I can follow through to an end point. I need to keep working and improving. I need the curiosity that it is generating – what would happen if this person chose option one rather than option 2, for instance?  I need this outlet, the challenges it poses, and the improvements I can see forming. I need the connecting with others – much like the blog – through the experience. I need my novel to be done, to whatever quality it ends up being, so I can know what it is like to have tried.

And that’s what I am currently learning.

Have you recently tried something something new? What have you enjoyed most about it?

5 thoughts on “What I am learning by writing

    1. I think that’s true, Son – as long as you can avert your eyes from what you are writing! (not saying I’m producing a masterpiece, but it’s all part of the process) xx


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