The secrets behind the practice of good writing: See the world through a story-teller’s eyes

 In Tips for Writers

21 December 2016.JPGIf you can do this, then every holiday, every trip you take, can feed your writing. You’re never really resting. You’re observing, collating, picking up material.

I suppose this is a continuation of the theme I began last week. How can you use the holidays to practise your writing, without locking yourself away entirely.

See yourself as a character and your life as a series of journeys. When you tell stories at the dinner table, tell them as a series of scenes, with dialogue. Collect anecdotes and scenes, scraps of dialogue and even phrases from the people around you . Scribble them down in your notebook.

Everything becomes grist to the mill eventually, and if you can see life through a story-teller’s eyes, everything becomes a good story eventually.

For many years after I left home, I always cried at Christmas. I retained the magical feeling that something special would happen. I wanted to reclaim the excitement of waking at dawn, on a still summer’s morning, to discover a red Size 26 bicycle at the foot of my bed.

That was probably my all-time best Christmas present. Bikes meant independence, and a Size 26 was my first grown-up bike. There’s a little piece of me that still gets excited; that still longs for the anticipation of a morning like that.

Yet most of my home Chistmases went wrong in some critical way. Like the year the overgrown puppy challenged the old dog for a scrap under the table and everyone ended up with dog bites. Or the old dog choked on a turkey bone and passed out, so that my dad was forced to stick his hand down her throat and give her CPR. Or the year the entire family erupted into full-scale war over …well, who can remember now. And then there was the time a distant relative, strict teetotaler that he was, kept slipping off to the loo until he collapsed (drooling slightly) into my Christmas dinner.

Writers draw from life all the time. This is not to say they write autobiography. But they pinch aspects of life and use them in entirely different ways, for different purposes.

My very first book was about a Christmas that went critically wrong. It was a coming of age, and I did use it to show something about the society we lived in. At other times, in different books, I’ve also used real-life fights with husbands, but given them to friends.

So, as a writer, you’re never not writing at all. You’re watching, collecting, practising. It’s just a matter of the way you see life: not as a string of discrete events, but as a series of stories, which build and grow.

If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a good one. Otherwise, I wish you a happy holiday and time to spend with those you love. There’ll be no blog from me next week since Allaboutwriting is closing for a week, but I’ll see you bright and chirpy in the new year.


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