Thursday, February 21, 2013

Guest Post: Michael Johnston - Good advice and why I don’t always take it.

Like you, I’m sure, I have friends, relatives and acquaintances who seem to be listening attentively as I tell a colourful story about one of my many exciting experiences but, too late, I realise they are simply waiting and watching for me to draw breath, at which point they will pile in about their own even more colourful and very much more self-centred experiences and, somehow, no matter how closely I listen and watch, they never seem to need to draw breath or pause for dramatic effect.

Well-meant advice from my talented and experienced father seemed to be rejected even faster than any publisher has ever rejected a manuscript.  It simply made me want to do the opposite and then, a week later perhaps, I would find I was doing what he had advised, thinking it was my own idea, until the penny dropped, or my father said something that would send me off into a fit of sulks.

However, if you get hold of a book which was published in 1934, is still in print and offers advice for beginning and sustaining any writing enterprise, you will never think about writing in the same way again.  The book is Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande (1898-1948) which is still in print.  Brande deals with two aspects of writing: the physical and the mental.  Physically, she believes that it is only by making oneself write a certain number of words every day, ideally at the same time of day, that one becomes, like an athlete, tuned up to achieve the level of performance a serious writer needs.  Accountants, remember, do not put off their work until inspiration strikes and neither should serious writers.  Once you have become fit as a writer, then you need to develop your imagination in the same way as you have developed your writing muscles.  This is not a review of Becoming a Writer but, if you’ll take my advice, now is the time to buy a copy and get started.

Incidentally, while checking my facts about Dorothea, I found out that she also wrote Wake Up and Livepublished in 1936, and which sold over two million copies. It was even made into a musical by Twentieth Century Fox.  I know nothing about it but the title isn’t a bad bit of advice so I shall look it up when I’ve posted this blog.

Another bit of advice was handed out by a speaker at the Writers’ Circle I took part in while living in Harrogate.  Looking us in the eye, she said very matter-of-factly, “A writer is someone who writes”.  Maybe it’s true that everybody has at least one novel in them but, thankfully for the rest of us, few of these ever get written because the hard work involved in writing a book puts most people off.  I think this is simply another way of expressing what Dorothea Brande says in her book.  Unless you find you are writing something every day, you are probably not a writer and might find it better to stick to your knitting, or whatever you find you really like to do.  After all, we writers (I flatter myself) need readers and there are no barriers to entry to that honourable profession.  And no writer worth his or her salt is not an avid reader!

So, you write daily; you have a vivid imagination; you read until you fall asleep; what’s next?  Choose your subject and, ignoring as far as possible, all other claims on your time, just get on with it: and I shall look out for the results in my bookshop.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Melissa

    Thanks so much for hosting Michael Johnston as part of his Virtual Book Tour sponsored by VAforAuthors and Pump Up Your Book.

    Michael Johnston's book, Rembrandt Sings, is a fabulous read. I'm sure your readers will enjoy the story's twists, turns and surprises! They can find out more about it at his website