inspiration, Writing

Learning lessons from other writers

Crime writer Ian Rankin did a documentary for the BBC this week (watch on iPlayer if you can) and it was fascinating to watch a programme about a best-selling author and see him go through the same process and doubts that I have gone through.

He describes writing his new book like being on a roller coaster – one day he likes it, the other he doesn’t, one he knows what he’s doing, the other he doesn’t. He talks about not feeling in control of the process, having a fear of writing – “There’s a lot to be afraid of writing a book”. Mostly he acknowledges the hard work involved in writing a book. Watching someone who has published so many books to so much success grapple with these feelings I have to admit gave me a big shot of relief.

Talking about finishing a first draft, Ian said he didn’t know who the killer was yet. WOW. I’m always scared to read back a first draft for how hideous it might be but to see this established author write a draft that doesn’t actually have an ending and to not know how it should end yet was a big eye opener. Everyone writes in different ways. All my firsts drafts have had endings and after editing have broadly stayed the same. I know where I wanted the book to go. This just shows there is no right way to write a book. We all do it differently.

The more I get to know other writers, the more I can see that we are all tough on ourselves a lot of the time. We are our own critics. I doubt we will ever write a book and think it’s amazing all through the writing and editing process. There will inevitably be a wobble or two – a moment where we question our writing skills. Where we think we suck. Knowing this has helped me no end. I’m not alone with my self doubt. And even with self doubt, a novel can be produced. It can be successful. Just look at Ian Rankin.

As Ian’s wife in the documentary said “writing is solitary” so learning from other writers and feeling like we have things in common really help. And even best selling authors can learn and be inspired by other writers. In the documentary, Ian showed the camera the quote he has stuck to his wall above his desk:

“Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea” – Iris Murdoch 

What lessons have you learnt from other writers?



11 thoughts on “Learning lessons from other writers”

  1. Yes I blogged about this too and left a link to the programme. I thought it was brilliant. And really weird that he seems just as insecure as the rest of us. After all those books and being such a best seller. Eyes opened.
    And the Iris Murdoch quote is brilliant too. Good post!

  2. Really Interestig. I will try and watch that broadcast. I have a friend who really is a brilliant cook, and knows some top people in the world of Thai cookery. She was saying how hard it was to get published. I have read her book and it is stand- out good but if you are not already an establihed name I think the first break is harder to obtain today than it used to be. Publishing, quite rightly and understandably, is about making money. The quality of the book is just one factor they consider. To be a succesful author these days, you also have to be a tireless marketeer, and that is where many fail, I think.

    You are someone I have great faith in. I am looking forward to reading your published work.

    1. Try and watch if you can, really interesting. Definitely for non-fiction it’s a lot about who you know and if you already have a following.

      Thank you so much Peter, you are so complimentary, it makes my day every time you comment!

  3. Just taking a little bit of my writing to a writing critique group for the first time was terrifying. Like the name suggests, they are there to critique and make suggestions for how I can improve. But after just a few small criticisms, it’s easy to want to crawl back into a hole and say, “Well….it’s no use. I’m never going to get to the level of being published.” It’s nice to hear that other writers struggle with the same fears (even after they’ve been published!). It’s also nice to think that if I press on, and use the criticism to get better (instead of using it as a reason to quit), I just may succeed! But I’ll never succeed if I don’t try! 🙂

  4. I think I’m more like Ian. I get a glimpse of a character and a story I’d love to know more about, and I start writing based on that. Even when I do think I know what the story is, it just goes along and proves itself to be something else. (Willful stories! Gah!)

    I’ve learned many lessons from other writers, but the best was that criticism isn’t always be bad, and needn’t always be ugly. I got a chance to revisit this yesterday when a friend was feeling gloomy about some comments she’d gotten on her first book. I said that, thanks to excellent guidance from a dear writer friend, I came to both welcome and relish feedback from friends. It’s a million times better to get criticism from a friend you know is guided by love and desire to see you grow than from a random stranger who mightn’t feel quite so generous!

    I got a 3-star rating on TMD yesterday that I replied to with something akin to: “Thanks for your review! For what it’s worth, there are things even I would change were I to write and edit this book today.” Sometimes I get a little frustrated with my old self for not having all the wisdom (haha!) I have now, but mostly I’m grateful that I gave it a shot and learned the kinds of lessons that can only be learned by doing a thing.

    1. I think getting constructive feedback on your work is really important and I’ve learnt a lot from reading feedback on my writing. It’s not easy to put yourself out there but everyone reads stores differently, there will always be someone who doesn’t connect with your work but hopefully a lot more who do!

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