by Helen Kenwright
In this, the first of a series of guest blogs, Writing Tree Tutor Helen Kenwright takes a look at the different reasons people might choose to write, and how to keep motivation going.
When students first come to my classes I ask them what it is about writing that interests them. It’s a question they’ve usually been asked before, and they often find difficult to answer, unless they are hoping to write with a view to publication. It’s a strange phenomenon, when you think about it. Artistic pursuits form the basis of lots of common hobbies: writing, colouring books, salsa dancing, knitting, singing in the shower… but all too often we feel as if we’re daft for doing it, unless we’re really good. And there’s the paradox: like other skills in life, we’re unlikely to get really good unless we do it a lot.
So why bother? Here’s a few ideas.
Writing for Fun
At its most fundamental level, writing can be the equivalent of singing along to your favourite song in the shower. There’s real joy to be had from expressing yourself without a care for how it might be perceived by anyone else. Dance like no-one is watching. Write like no-one is reading. Set yourself challenges. Write a poem where every line starts with a letter from your name. Write in a spiral instead of straight lines. Write a poem where every line is on a different post-it note and you can mix them around on a whim.
Writing for Wellbeing
Writing can be good for us for the same reasons making up stories is good for kids. It helps us to organise our thoughts, express our emotions and process things that have happened to us. For many of us it’s also a reason to take some much needed time for ourselves, away from the stresses of our every day lives.
Writing for Practise
Whether you take a writing class or not, you can improve your writing a lot just by doing it. Like other skills, you will get better by experimentation, studying others, repetition and reflection.
Writing for Others
You don’t have to be a best-selling author to entertain or persuade others with your writing. There are so many platforms now: blogs, social media, websites, e-books, as well as the more traditional letters, magazines and books. Whatever you want to say, there’s a good chance you can find at least a small audience to read it. Or perhaps you’d just like to entertain your friends and family. It’s all good.
Writing for Money
So far I’ve considered a lot of wholesome, enjoyable reasons to write. But this is the one reason people will be expecting you to give. Writing as a hobby is all very well, but as soon as you sell your work you are validated. The more copies you sell, the more money you make, the better writer you must be.
In fact, this is not true. There are many excellent writers sharing their work for nothing, and many published books which aren’t very good. But it’s a very persistent thought.
A lot of people do make money from writing, though. A tiny percentage of them are novelists, poets and scriptwriters. But there’s a lot of bloggers, journalists, report-writers, academics and copy-writers out there too. The pay tends to be atrocious, but people will probably always need someone to arrange words in a pleasing order for them. And there’s a lot to be said for doing what you love.
The one thing I haven’t addressed in the list above is the fact that writing can sometimes be a pain in the neck. It’s not always easy to find the time, the confidence or the words to get the images from our imaginations to the page. Only occasionally is writing an effortless flow from pen to paper, from fingers to keyboard, from mind to story.
Some writers are put off by this. Their writing gets postponed to some future date when they will have the time, the experience, the knowledge, the patience. Sadly, for many of them, that day will never come. Their stories will remain untold. I urge you not to take this risk.
Many people who join my writing classes claim they aren’t very good at writing. They are apologetic not just about their perceived lack of skills, but about daring to think they could even take a class in creative writing. It’s as if somehow they don’t have the right to write, unless they have to.
For some reason, once we become adults, writing is only seen as something we are allowed to do if we’re good at it, and preferably if it’s going to make money. ‘Real’ writers are the ones on the best-seller lists. Not the ones who tap out silly poems on their phones on the morning commute, or write fanfiction, or have been writing an epic novel for the past two decades, which they don’t expect anyone else to ever read.
Well, here’s a thing.
That’s not true.
We can all be writers. And we can all be better writers.
All we have to do is write.
Motivation can be really hard to come by, especially if you’ve suffered from the dreaded writer’s block, or you have a very busy schedule, or if you are worried about your spelling or grammar. So here’s 7 tips to help you to get motivated for writing.
1. Write for ten minutes, every day. It doesn’t matter what you write, or how, or what on. Tap it onto your phone on the bus, scribble in a notebook, type it on a computer. Just time yourself for ten minutes and write.
2. Take a look at the reasons for writing above. Pick out the ones that work for you, add any I’ve forgotten, and write them down. Remind yourself that this isn’t just a whim – there are reasons to write. Good ones.
3. If you are overwhelmed by a particular project, pick one tiny bit of it to work on. Just one scene. A character sketch. A single image. This is how art is formed: one tiny piece at a time. And no piece is too tiny to consider a success.
4. If your lifestyle doesn’t support it, don’t try to write a thousand words a day, or for an hour a day. Pick whatever time you can scavenge once your boss, friends, chores and family have had theirs, and give yourself realistic goals. Let’s say you can write 250 words in fifteen minutes or so. If you do that every day for a week, that’s 1,750 words, a good length for the kind of story you might read in a magazine. In a month, it’s 7,500 words, which is a couple of competition-length short stories. In a year, it’s 91,000 words, which is a novel.
5. Remember there’s two steps (at least) to the writing process, and you don’t have to do them all at once. First, you express your thoughts, feelings and ideas with the full force of your imagination. Secondly, you craft this raw creative material to make it the best it can be. If you try to do both at once, you might find yourself overwhelmed. So when you’re stuck, just go for full on creativity, and spelling and grammar be damned. You can fix it all later – providing you’ve got words down there to fix.
6. Write what’s inside you. If your head is full of what happened at work, or the kids needing new shoes, or that guy who yelled at you when you accidentally steered your shopping trolley into him in the supermarket, it’s unlikely you’re going to be best placed to craft a beautiful poem about a sunset. You can do that another day. Possibly after a lot of soothing tea and yoga. For now, write what you feel. Rant, worry, script a piece about a man who becomes a shopping trolley. Whatever floats your boat.
7. Writing is not your enemy. It is your friend. It can be frustrating, greedy of your time and it might sometimes take you places you didn’t want to go. But it’s always there for you, and it has your best interests at heart. Forgive it when it’s cranky, be firm when it’s out of line, and enjoy its company when you’re getting along.
Just never give up on it. Whatever your reason: write.