Confessions of a Writer: I Make it up as I Go Along

Let’s begin as I mean to go on. I’m no writing guru. I cannot tell you how to write, mainly because I’m not a fan of this ‘rules for writers’ business. My friends, I’m making this up as I go along. How about you? I think pretty much most of us are, if we’re honest.

I Taught English but That Doesn’t Make Me an Expert

It’s funny how once you’ve been an English teacher, everyone thinks that you know every word in the English language, can spell anything, never make a grammatical mistake, and know everything about language construction.

Confession time: we really don’t. This post probably shows that.

I make it up as I go along - English teacherEnglish teachers know a fair bit about this language thing but probably not as much as some of you may think. It does not stand to reason either that because someone taught kids about literature and language that they are therefore a writer.

For years I thought I was good at analysing literature and teaching the National Curriculum. I never dared to think I could write. Just because you can see why there is a hell of a lot of colour symbolism in The Great Gatsby doesn’t mean you can write using your own accomplished symbolism.

That said, I surprised myself when I finally started to write. I think I’m not too shabby at it – I’ll leave you to be the judge of that – but it doesn’t stand to reason that because you’re teaching about books all day, that you can write your own.

I Don’t Have Creative Writing Qualifications

My academic qualifications are in English Studies and Sociology at degree level, and English Literature at Masters level. Apart from at school, I have never been taught how to write creatively, and even then the teaching was patchy.

I am not stating that you need to do a creative writing degree to be a writer. Far from it.

I’m also not stipulating that creative writing qualifications are rubbish.

I have read the works of writers who barely scraped through their GCSEs and have been amazed by the quality of their writing. I’ve also read pieces from creative writing dons and have been similarly blown away. Do what you need in order to succeed.

When I started writing I considered if I would need to do some kind of creative writing study. Apart from the expense, I decided that if I did I would probably never get round to writing a novel.

I would study hard and throw myself into it with aplomb, and probably be too shattered to get on with writing itself. That’s just me though. More power to those of you studying creative writing and rocking it.

I Haven’t Published Anything Yet

I'm making it up as I go along - Unpublished writer quoteNope, still not published. No, the novel isn’t finished yet *sighs wearily*. Yes, it’s written and in the throes of revision. I’ll get there.

I write short stories and, of course, blog posts too. I may not be published but you can bet your arse that I am writing.

I know the goal is to have a book out there that people can buy and read widely (here’s hoping). I don’t feel a failure for not having done so yet.

I could publish something tomorrow if I wanted to. A few strokes of the keyboard and some flimsy crap would be out there in the ether for you all to have a laugh at.

I want to get it right. I know writers are often told that their first novel will be codswallop. I think that’s pretty harsh. It may be true for many but what about the discerning ones who build up their writing bank before they rush off to tout their wares on Amazon?

I’d love to have a book out there right now. I’d be a nightmare, phoning everyone I even remotely know, including probably our Tesco delivery driver, just to get them to see that I’m a proper grown up writer.

I’d want them to know that it wasn’t all a lie and I really wasn’t sitting on the sofa, picking crisps out of my navel, and shouting at the pond life on ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’ (that was just in the writing breaks).

I’ll get published one day. I’m a determined lady when I set my mind to something. I’ve read the articles about how to get published and what to do about marketing, but probably just like you, when I get there, I’ll be styling it out, making it up as I go along.

I Read Books about Writing and Then…

I carry on writing.

Every newbie writer will buy any writing book you recommend. I’m starting to think that established writers earn commission every time a new writer buys On Writing by Stephen King.

My husband laughs at my propensity to buy a book for every life issue I encounter. If something goes wrong or I cannot fix it, I know there must be a book for that. Any excuse to buy books really.

I bought a lot of writing guidance books at the start. Some were great, some were meh, and some just awful. I read them, absorbed them, and then got back to writing.

Just like those bloody memes that dictate how to write, or the jaded writer who trolls writing groups ready to take down fresh blood that threatens to ‘make it’ before he/she does, not everything in those books is helpful. Just because a fellow writer wrote it, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is writing ‘law’.

I’m not anti-writing books by the way. I’ve had some major revelations in my writing because of them. However, they are not encyclopedias. Take what you need and then go get on with it.

I Ask for Help!

When I was a kid I was terrible at asking for help. Some of it was down to shyness. A lot of it was because I didn’t want to look stupid for not knowing things I thought everyone else knew.

I still occasionally go to that insecure place as an adult. Then I think, arse to this, I’ll never figure out how to do this alone. I’m asking someone who knows. Looking like a cockwomble is a small price to pay for knowledge.

I'm making it up as I go along - Help!No one likes to be exposed as a bit of a div. I wonder how many of us are writing our novels, practically near the end, and still wondering how to outline, write in chapters, format, do paragraphing, and the like. It’s because we are afraid to ask, for fear of appearing like an amateur writer.

I put it to you then, what is a professional writer? Someone who knows absolutely everything about writing, language, the whole shebang? Apparently only Stephen King is such a specimen of a writing god, although I beg to differ *hides behind the sofa before the Kingites Cult members find me*.

Every writer has a weakness or an aspect of writing they struggle with or know little about. Google can be our friend. Other writers are often even better. They went there before us. They probably asked someone else how to do it too.

Let’s keep paying it forward and passing the knowledge along. Let’s keep working on being a supportive writing community I know exists in some quarters.

I Blag it

I used the word ‘blag’ in a previous post and had lots of people tell me they’d never encountered the word before. You Americans are so sheltered.

‘Blag’ means ‘to obtain something by wheedling, cadging, or by using persuasion or guile’.

Writing can be a bit of a blag sometimes. I persuade myself that I am a writer. If I don’t then I won’t write.

If I decide to let mopey self-esteem dictate that today I’m not writing because I’m rubbish at it, then this novel is never going to get published. Only I can write and finish the piece I’m working on.

I wheedle my way through the writing process. I cadge any writing skills I have to cobble together a first draft.

I read my first draft and then wish I’d done a creative writing degree. I revise and edit and continue the blag by telling myself that I can do this.

I get to the end. I’m happy that it’s as close to the best I can do as possible – no writer is ever 100% happy with their work.

I thank myself for employing the art of the blag to get there because if I start any piece thinking I’m an incredible writer then I’ve set myself up for a pretty heavy fall.

Self-centered, egotistical people will always eventually be found out. I think I’m not too shabby at this writing gig but I know I’ve still got a long way to go.

I’ll never be as accomplished as the authors I love because I don’t want to feel that I reached that peak. Where do you go when you reach the top? You either sit up there in a small club or you slide back down.

Leave me in my blaggy little middle. It’s fun right here.

Make it up as You Go Along

By all means learn the writing craft, study it, analyse it, until you strip it bare, but know this; you will never be the master of it. Even Charles Dickens and Shakespeare must have had moments where they wailed and swore they’d never write again.

Making it up as I go alone - Shakespeare
Aargh! What rhymes with orange?

Take on board what’s needed, throw the useless extras over the side. Listen to other writers who have gone before you but know that they trod their particular path. Yours is different.

Put that pen in your hand, or that keyboard under your fingers and create. Creating something, after all, is really just making it up as you go along.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

8 comments on “Confessions of a Writer: I Make it up as I Go Along

  1. Tnx for this splendid post!
    Specially for starting writers, but not limited to those, initial writing bringing characters to life making plots, reversals, is like the discovery of heaven.

    Surely, grammar rules exist for a reason, but all those harsh style regulations?
    If you manage to get your message across, raise the intended emotion, I dare say one succeeded.
    Most rules should help to avoid confusing the reader. Full stop.
    Not for maximizing the chance for publishers profits.

    Some proclaim contemporary rules as god-given decrees, but as a mere mortal, I treasure artistic freedom, my signature.

    1. Thank you for your insights. I agree that stylistic aspects of writing are more fluid and creative as long as the reader understands the intention.

      I’m pleased that you enjoyed reading my post. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. I stopped reading all the “how to write” books, because I’ve learned there are no hard a fast rules. And no one can tell you how to create stories out of thin air, which is the hardest part, so why waste precious time. Thankfully there are people out there with strong grammar skills and they can help me turn my jumbled thoughts into easier reading 🙂
    So yes I love making it up as I go along, and don’t worry too much about the rest.

    1. Thanks for this, Theresa. Got to love that we have the benefits of drafts, editors and imaginations! I’d hate to ever feel stifled by having to get it ‘right’.

      Thanks for your continued support of my blog!

  3. Great post Lisa! Not every writer follows a plot outline, some of us just make it up as we go along. We don’t know everything there is to know about formatting, marketing, self-publishing.

    The joy is in the journey, along with authors like you whose honesty is refreshing.

  4. Great post Lisa.
    Did the English-Creative Writing track in college and let me tell you, I still have trouble with grammar rules. It’s my weakness. My strengths lie more in word usage, tension, characterization. So need the help I can get which why I love writing guides. Though I’m picky in that area.
    PS The Emotions Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi is my bible. And I plan to get the rest of their thesaurus collection.

    1. More writers need to confess their weaknesses so the rest of us don’t feel so stupid! I’ve looked at that thesaurus collection. I might just invest in it!

      Thanks for commenting Lidy.

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