When I started writing way back in the Middle Ages, there was basically only one way to do it; sit down at a typewriter and start bashing our your manuscript. Most people would handwrite something first as corrections were hard, so typing would be by way of a final draft. It was such a hassle correcting all your mistakes that you were allowed to submit a typescript to a publisher with some pencilled-in corrections, though too many of these were frowned upon. But in those days basically you sat down and just got on with it. Yes, there were one or two books you could read, one in the Teach Yourself series and one which I still have by Louise Doughty on how to write a novel in a year. Other than that the preoccupation was all with getting published rather than with the act of writing itself. True, there were writers’ groups which offered support and criticism in varying proportions, but basically the method was to read as much as possible in your genre and then get to it. Sit at your desk and write. Bum on seat.
Fast forward forty years and what do we find? An entire industry devoted to making you a better writer. Barely a day goes by without me being invited to join a course or a webinar or a tutorial or to buy this or that book or to follow such-and-such a programme – and there’s such a huge lexicon associated with this, it’s like learning a new language. I never knew such things as beta readers existed (I’m still not sure what they are) and until recently I had no idea what Save the Cat beats were. And don’t get me started on the number of academic courses out there. In the end you get the impression that before you can set finger to keyboard you have to amass an entire forest of diplomas. However did Shakespeare manage? you wonder.
Now I’m not saying all this stuff is worthless. Many people have gone on to successful careers after taking an MA in Creative Writing. I have found the Save the Cat books interesting and useful. But in my humble opinion there’s nobody, no matter how successful or qualified, can teach me to listen to my own voice. So whatever anyone else says, for me it’s about the two Rs – reading and writing. First read, then write. I read whatever takes my fancy, I learn from it and I sit down at my desk to listen to what my voice is telling me. Then I write. There’s no course in the world can teach you how to do that.
The aim is always to be a unique voice, one who can be identified by just a few lines or a paragraph. The authorities are always coming up with new ways of identifying people: did you know that a lip print can be used as ID? I was able to use this in a story where the MC (Main Character) comes home to find lipstick on a wine glass which starts her off on some detective work. It’s also the case that a person can be identified from their unique voice print; that even if you try to disguise the voice something about it will come through. So you could say that’s my aim in writing – to be detected as utterly unique by seeing my voice in print.