Write it now, part 1 – so you want to be a writer?

So you want to be a writer, eh? Not a bad choice of career. There are worse ones. There are also better paid careers. But then, you’re not in it for the money, are you?

My Adler Gabrielle 25 - on which I typed maybe a million words in the 1980s.

My Adler Gabrielle 25 – on which I typed maybe a million words in the 1980s. See the shine on the keys?

Welcome to my new blog series ‘Write it now’ - an A-Z of writing. I thought this year I’d share some of the tips and tricks that have helped me write and publish over 500 feature articles and 50 books, some 2,000,000 words or thereabouts, over the last 30-odd years since I had my first break, aged 18, with my university newspaper.  Here’s the list.

Each week, I’m going to publish another post covering a different aspect of writing as I see it. And I’d love to hear from you – what you think of these ideas, whether they’re helpful, and whether you’ve got thoughts of your own.

We’re all in it together, you see – writers.

First, a bit about my background. I formally trained in fiction writing at the local polytechnic and, later at university, was fortunate enough to get key writing lessons from Richard Adler, then Professor of English at the University of Montana, visiting New Zealand on a Fullbright scholarship. I wrote my first books as an ‘intern’ with the New Zealand Forest Service a couple of years later – yes, I got paid a salary to write. Later I picked up tips and tricks from a newspaper editor in my home town, and more again from a features editor on the Wellington metropolitan daily, for which I freelanced.

Mostly, though, I’ve written books, published by companies such as Random House and Penguin.

It’s been a lot of fun, and the best is yet to come. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about writing as a profession, about writing as art – and that’s what I’m going to share with you.

How do I see writing? To me, words are secondary. In fact, I disagree with ‘word count’ as a goal. As we’ll see during these posts, it’s simply a tool. And there are many writing tools.

The more important part of writing is purpose. And writing has but one purpose; to elicit emotion in the writer – and to elicit one in the reader. Ideally, the emotion the writer intends.

That’s true of all writing. All? All. Non-fiction included. You’ll see why as these posts develop.

So – in just three words, here’s what writing is:

Writing is emotion.

It’s true. What do you figure?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Next week: ‘Write it now – are writers born or made?’ Along with other writing-related posts, history posts, and inspirational posts.

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19 comments on “Write it now, part 1 – so you want to be a writer?

  1. baztanz says:

    I would have to totally agree, words are emotion and the difference in a good read is being able to “feel” the emotion on any given situation. Sadly when I try this all my writings seem to end up as “business reports”, I find it very difficult to get the emotion out onto the keyboard.

    • It’s all good. Emotion emerges in all sorts of ways in writing, even a ‘dispassionate’ piece such as a dictionary, where the emotional element is that it satisfies the need to know. It’s not overt, and sometimes – certainly in fiction – the emotional content and transfer to reader can sneak up on you. I’ll share my thoughts on this a little later in a further post.

  2. I don’t disagree. I guess I’ve always viewed it as a transfer of emotion. It’s my job to find the emotion and send it along through the words so that the reader can easily pick it up and feel it. maybe that’s taking it too far but, that’s what I try to do.

  3. S. Thomas Summers says:

    I feel words are vital. Not word count, but word choice. It’s my job to paint a vivid image in my readers’ minds. I want my reader to feel as if he’s smelt, heard, and tasted my poem as well. I want him to experience my poem.

    S. Thomas Summers
    Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

    • When I read your poems, that this is precisely the effect your words have – brilliant, brilliant writing! Words are the tools for achieving that emotional result, and as you say they have to be carefully selected to do so. Word choice is vital, and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on this (and interested to know yours) in a little while.

      Briefly, though, my take is that words are still flawed vehicles for conveying the ‘perfection’ of the emotional concept in the mind of the writer… and that the number of them is not an end in itself. Word count is simply another tool, one used by publishers and editors to define commercial scale and financial return, and to meet a word count reflects the need for controlling one’s writing. But it is not an end in itself for writers.. Quality – that’s a whole other matter!

  4. Imelda Evans says:

    I think this is one of those ‘simple’ truths that becomes more and more profound as you learn more about the art. As someone who started in fiction in romance, I’ve always ‘known’ the importance of emotion in stories, but I am only now, six years in, really understanding what it means and what it requires from me. It’s not that I didn’t care or wasn’t trying before, I think it’s one of those things that you have to write your way into an understanding of.

    • Absolutely true. It’s easy to glibly throw out a line ‘writing is emotion’, as I’ve just done….The hard part is also being able to do it, and that’s something that not only takes practise, but it’s also a product of time and experience, for which there is no substitute. Book-learnt writing theory can only take writers so far. As you point out, the word ‘emotion’ as the core of the writers’ art also gains depth and meaning as a writer grows and matures. It’s all good.

  5. Quiller says:

    [SIGH] I didn’t choose to be a writer…it chose me! Great post!

  6. beaubarnett says:

    You’ve definitely hit the mail on the head — writing is emotion, and word count is not the ultimate goal. I’d much rather write 250 words that has an emotional impact on my readers (both of them!) than 1500 words of time-wasting drivel.

    Thanks Matthew!

    Looking forward to reading the rest of these!

    • Absolutely true. The sad part is that we’re led down the ‘word count as goal’ track everywhere we go – even down to little ‘count-o-meters’ on blogs that show progress on the latest project. That said, it’s a handy device for publishers, who specify books by word length in contracts – but on my experience they’ll adjust it (with suitable grumbling) if the author comes up with quality content that has a different count.

  7. Great idea this series. I agree: writing is emotion. That’s what I try to put in my writing and what I’m looking for in other people’s writing.

    • Thank you – this is what I’m pivoting the series around. Something a little different from the how-to posts on other blogs. And a lesson I picked up initially in the polytechnic writing classes, I had a fantastic teacher.

  8. SJ Main says:

    Agreed. I’ve written one children’s book so far, and the principle emotion was humour, but there was also suspense and excitement – I hope! I like the idea of this series of blog posts. I will follow along, especially given the New Zealand connection, and undoubtedly learn a lot.

    • Thank you – and welcome. Actually, I have to say the hardest thing to do is write childrens’ books – way harder than adult. I’ve written one kids’ book, and it was unbelievably challenging. Worth it in the end – and a lot of fun. But definitely challenging!

  9. [...] series on the A-Z of writing. In these initial posts I’m exploring the foundations of the art – what writing’s about (emotion), why we write, and what’s needed to learn about it. In a few weeks I’ll be moving on [...]

  10. KM Huber says:

    Looking forward to the series, Matthew! I not only agree that “writing is emotion” but I also agree with your response to a comment that words are essentially “flawed vehicles” in relaying emotion, yet they are what we have. Hmm…almost sounds like the tragic hero…I digress.

    Karen

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