Monday, 16 September 2013

The Writing World of Contradictions

The writing world is full of ‘rules’ that contradict each other. On the one hand we’re told to “write about what we know,” yet on the other hand if we do that we’d never research anything new. Which is why there’s the other rule of “question everything and write about it,” so we give ourselves more to write, to save ourselves from becoming stale.

One of the other common writing contradictions that can confuse newbie writers is:

 - “Always write for a specific market” and
 - “Be true to yourselves and find your own voice.”

If we’re being true to ourselves and writing what we want to write (meeting that urge within us that forces us to pick up a pen, or caress that keyboard), how can we ensure we’re writing for a specific market? Writing for the market means being clear who you writing your words for, and why, and following the ‘style rules’. Whereas being true to yourself and finding your own voice means writing whatever interests you, in a way that interests you.

The solution is simple: play by both rules … at the right time.

Many of you know that I sometimes provide walking route descriptions for Country Walking magazine. The style means that when I write such a route description I have to write with the specific market in mind. I have 400 words to describe, in a way that ensures the reader doesn't get lost, my walking route, whether that’s two miles in length or twelve miles.

But I often write two versions: the Country Walking version, and then the version for myself - where I write using my own voice. I write about the sounds, smells and the historical and natural sights along the way. This process satisfies my need of writing what I want to write, whilst also enabling me to write something for publication.

And there are times when I can draw upon that ‘true’ writing for other articles, or even short stories, or other forms of writing. Nothing in this writing game is wasted. Write what you want to write, to satisfy that urge we all have within us. Then learn to write what you need to write to get published. Over time, your personal ‘true’ writing will help your voice develop, which will help you to grow as a writer.

Good luck.


  1. True. Not all writing can be targeted directly at the market.
    Sometimes I need to write something I don't intend to publish, perhaps to work out an event in a character's back story that won't end up in the book. I find writing about my characters develops my knowledge of them, and this understanding shows in the writing that /is/ published.
    And if you write about what interests you, you'll be motivated to do the research that enables you to write from knowledge. Arthur C Clarke never went to the moon but that didn't stop him writing about it.

    1. Yeah, and if that Agatha Christie only wrote about what she knew then it's a bit worrying where she got some of her plotlines from!

  2. I'm encouraged to be reminded that "nothing in this writing game is wasted."

    Yes, there have been times where I have written an account of a holiday or a day trip, just to record my own memories - not with any market in mind other than my own diary.

    But later I've been able to extract portions of this and, with a little editing, turn it into something which has the potential to be published.

    1. That's right ... whatever you write down can become a nugget of an idea, or a piece of description that you can use in the future!