I was talking a few weeks ago with the wonderful Adrian about….something…and we somehow got onto a writer’s sword…
(I just had to look up the conversation. It was to do with whacking said wonderful person with something when he gets too big-headed about his imminent fame).
Anyway. It got both of us thinking, and I ended up coming up with this motto;
The Writer’s Sword: skill blended with ego, tempered by humility.
I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks about the balance that’s needed to be a writer. It’s a bit of an odd one – you do need all three elements listed above, and all in roughly equal measures.
Skill’s the one that is most easily learned, I think, and yet the hardest to gain. It’s no surprise that the writer’s advice is most often “write, write, write” – practise really does make perfect, or at least lets you make all the mistakes you can! And if you want to get published consistently, you have to have that skill, and use it consistently.
And this feeds into ego. You have to believe that you’re good! You also have to recognise that while other writers might be better than you, while you might not yet be perfect or a bestseller or whatever your personal vision of “A Writer” is, you’re in your own class of excellence. Only you can write how you do. Only you can see the world as you do, and translate that into words. Only you can tell the stories. You might not be as good as you want to be, but damnit, you’ve got some talent there!
But…that has to be tempered with humility. Critique can be soul-destroying, and it’s a harsh thing to have to accept that the work you thought was amazing might need polish. It’s frustrating as hell to have something come back with metaphorical red pen all over it, especially when you feel you poured yourself into it. Writing is personal and it is hard, and to put it out into the world, get it trodden on – either by your editor or your readers (or by the lack of them) can hurt. You need to be able to roll with those punches.
And then we’re back round to skill and ego. You have to have the skill to accept the critique and work what you learn back into your writing, to get better – and the ego to survive the criticism and put your work back out there!
It’s something I’ve been watching in myself over the past few years – from the original work I did on Shadows In The Light (with its…ooh, about five revisions, improving each time) and then GreenSky, over the course of ten books. I wouldn’t write Green Sky & Sparks in the same way now as I did ten years ago – but then my work now is very, very different! Even The Necromancer’s Charm is looking very different to No Man’s Land, and that’s only got two years between them.
The sword keeps getting stronger over time, the more you write, and my blade gets more and more honed for every word I write, every change I make.
What metaphors have you got for the balance that’s needed for writing?