I hate laying down rules for writers, but I think there is one thing that a decent writer needs to pay attention to and encourage.
I sometimes piss people off a little when I say anyone can be a writer. (Usually the elitist types who believe that they are Specialty-Special and any infringement on their Specialty-Specialness needs to be shot down before people stop worshipping their genius. But I digress.) When I say anyone can be taught to be a writer, I’m talking about the twin horns of Technique and Imagination.
Even the worst of writers, with stale prose and weak, clichéd metaphors, can be pushed out of their comfort zone and begin to examine their work more critically, and eventually start pushing themselves to do better, to improve not just the basics, but to hone their style and voice into something pointed and precise. It takes firstly, an acceptance that their work does actually need improving, and secondly, a willingness to work hard.
The other horn, left dull and neglected thanks to a bizarre pervasive belief in OMG NATURALLY GIFTED PEOPLE ARE THE BESTEST, is the one I think we are too frightened to sharpen.
Yes, there are naturally talented writers who spin out prose so effortless that it hurts to read. Whose imaginations swoop and soar and go places that leave us bruised. Those people are in an extreme minority. The rest of us have to work at out tools and techniques, and take a massive step backwards.
Because the people with those amazing imaginations? They’re the ones who never left the sand-pit. When the rest of us got clogged up with memorising formulas and getting passing grades and working our nine-to-five, those people took a part of the sand-pit with them, and they never. Stop. Playing.
When I wrote House of Sand and Secrets and the other Hobverse books, I was playing in a mental world where fall-out from a magical war warped the creatures and the landscape and began to change the mundane into the bizarre and strange – lions became sphynxes, goats were unicorns, crocodiles were dragons. And I let my imagination run through this world, inventing people, politics, power-struggles. I became fascinated with the limitations and the lack thereof. That’s how you get there – you build yourself a sandbox world and you go WHAT IF…?.
Writers sometimes have to give themselves permission to go back to that sand-pit, to shove their fingers through the nothing and start building castles, to turn Barbie into Godzilla and stamp down cities. To dream, to imagine.
That is the biggest challenge facing so many of us who want to write – we’re terrified of getting lost in our own imaginations. of perhaps not writing something commercial enough (whatever that means on any given day). Or perhaps we’re scared to find out we don’t have that capacity to imagine and create any more. I don’t think you lose it, but I do think it becomes harder to chip away all the concrete of adulthood and get back to that place where we lose ourselves in what if. It takes practice, just like anything else.
The world around us is filled with fascination, we just need to break through and let our sandpit and our amazing world meet. Let everything run together, let it fester, if necessary. Dreams don’t have to be pretty. Go back to your childish terrors, your youngest hopes, and build something unexpected.