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Short story writing: attitudes to writing, part 1

The creative impulse

What made you think of writing short stories in the first place? Something which we can call a creative impulse must have made you look into the matter. Perhaps you have read stories which made you think: 'I could do that', or 'I could do better than that'. Or perhaps a feeling or an idea arose which made you feel: 'I wish I could get this down on paper.'

This creative impulse is the root from which every other aspect of writing grows, and giving it expression is the end to which every other aspect of writing is aimed. It is something intuitive, and uniquely yours, and all your attitudes towards writing should be aimed at tuning into it and giving it a voice.

Trust your intuition

Finding your way as a writer is largely a matter of developing confidence in your own ideas and learning to trust your own intuition. If you feel you have no intuition, or not very much, this may be because you have not yet developed the practice of paying attention to it. The ideas it is generating may be too fleeting to make much impression at first, but if you listen for them, and make the effort to catch them, trust them, and use them, your intuition will gain strength and become an indispensable ally. One sentence produced by your own intuitive creativity is worth infinitely more than any number written because they seem to be 'the kind of thing expected in short stories'.

You are never too young to write

Teenage students sometimes said they felt too young to write, because they had not had enough experience of life. But some of them wrote the most imaginative and audacious stories I saw as a tutor. Don't pay any attention to anyone who says you can't write because you are too young or haven't had enough experience. Whatever age you are you have that many years of unique experience to draw on, and it is making the attempt to assimilate experience that puts meaning into a story, not the quantity of experiences you have had. In fact I would say it is especially important to write while you are young, because you might find the kind of inspiration and ideas you are in touch with now will fade away and be lost as you get older.

Emulating others

It is hard to imagine anyone taking up any art form without first admiring the work of others and wishing to imitate it. The wish to follow in someone else's footsteps is helpful as a starting point, but should not be taken too far. Problems can arise if you start thinking: 'But their characters/plots/descriptions are much better than mine.' The despair such thoughts can cause is groundless. What you admire in other people's work is probably their ability to express their own unique vision, and that should inspire you to express your own unique vision, not to copy theirs. When you start realising your full potential there may well be some things you can do much better than them. On this subject I would say: Don't worry about what you think you can't do - get on with doing what you can do.

Competition is healthy though, and as long as you opt for this positive attitude rather than the despair the wish to make your writing as entertaining and significant as that of writers you admire can be the best spur towards reaching your full potential.

Attitudes to the reader

Unless your aims are specifically commercial, and you have a 'target' readership, the only practical way to think of the reader is as someone like yourself, and the only practical answer to the question 'what sort of story shall I write?' is a story you yourself would like to have read.

Always remember that the division of a story into elements such as 'plot' 'character' 'structure' and so-on is artificial. We do it for purposes of analysis and discussion, but in practice a story stands or falls on how well it works as a unit. What kind of a unit is it? A unit of entertainment perhaps, or a unit of communication. It is a way of offering something to someone else anyway, and if the reader likes what you are offering he will enjoy the story, and if he doesn't he won't. So be aware of what you are doing to the reader when you write. Are you offering something you believe is worthwhile - something you yourself would be glad to receive?

Attitudes part 2 >

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