Shades Of Grey

33 9 30


No, not *those* shades, never those.

What I mean is, the grey area between right and wrong, yes and no.

When I'm active on the wattpad forums, I see so many people asking questions about how to improve their writing. Things like: "how do I write a blurb?" "how do I end this story?" "how do I make my writing better?" "how do I write a villain?"

These questions bemuse me. Because there are no black & white answers to those questions, no right or wrong. There is no solid answer. Writing isn't like a mathematical equation with a right or wrong solution. Creative subjects don't have yes or no conclusions in the same way maths and maybe science does. It's not like historical facts or data. You can't expect someone to answer with a direct solution, it doesn't work like that.

Good writing doesn't have an equation, I can't tell you precisely what to do to transform it from bad to better.

So why is it that so many people don't get this?

My reasoning revolves around the education system. In America, China and the UK it mostly teaches us to learn by rote. They give us the information and expect us to remember it. The dates of battles, wars, political events. The grammatical rules to use when constructing a sentence. The method for solving sums. The facts behind atoms and particles. We get graded with big red Xs or ticks, wrong or right.

What we aren't taught, is how to problem solve. How to think for ourselves.

Creativity involves thinking for yourself. You need to assess your work and figure out how to improve it. Writing a story is like painting a pictute, forming a sculpture, making music. You constantly assess as you work and make adjustments accordingly. A work of art will never be perfect, you don't get a big tick for a perfectly correct answer like you can with maths. You have to learn when to stop altering so that you don't go too far. You need to accept that it will never be perfect, and be happy with what you've produced regardless.

This is a beautiful thing. You can look back over time and see your own progression. You don't need ticks and crosses to show you that.

But when the education system teaches us by rote instead of encouraging us to problem solve, it can be hard to know what to do with creative subjects, as well as in our everyday life challenges. There's no one to put a red cross on our relationships when they're going wrong, or give us a smiley face sticker when we successfully get through a job interview.

Life has many grey areas between right and wrong. Writing is just the same.

So how do you improve your writing?

Read.

Read ALOT.

Read books you love by authors you admire. Read books you hate by crummy writers. You learn from the badly written just as much as the well written.

Read outside your favourite genre, read outside of the genre you choose to write in. You can learn so much from books that are different than you are used to. You can use techniques from thrillers in your chicklit, be inspired by romance for your epic fantasy.

Read a book for enjoyment, then read it again with a writer's eye, considering what's so good about it and how it's done. Read a bad book and think about why it's so bad.

There's no right and wrong answer to that. Good and bad, quality or rubbish, is all down to opinion. I think some of the most popular bestsellers are the worst things ever written (50 Shades - yes, those shades - Outlander, Twilight etc) but thousands of readers love those books. What makes quality writing is down to each and every reader's opinion.

That being said, yes, there are grammar rules to help you write well. But that alone doesn't make a good book. It doesn't take into account character development (something a heck of alot of wattpad writers need to explore, as well as some published ones - looking at you Stephanie Meyer), plot, emotional and pyschological portrayal, or atmosphere. There are no rules for how to write well.

There *are* general bits of advice for what most authors (and teachers) consider quality writing. But I'm sure you'll agree, that not all the supposedly brilliant classic literature out there is actually good (Annie Proulx's Postcards is the most boring book I've ever read, and I can't see why Pride & Prejudice is apparently so wonderful).

Most readers agree that flat cookie cutter characters are bad, as is overblown purple prose. But what constitutes those things varies by opinion.

What's most important is that you try to write the type of book you want to read. That's the best advice anyone can give you. If you write a story *you* enjoy, other people will enjoy it too, hopefully.

Don't expect them to flock to it in their thousands, it can take alot of time, effort and many, many more books before the readers find you. It's usually not instant success.

You need practice. The more you write, the more you learn and the better you get. You will always be improving, even Stephen King is still learning.

The second best piece of advice is: don't give up.

Just because you don't get thousands of readers with your first book, or even your fourth, doesn't mean you are bad. Keep writing, keep improving. Don't judge what could be based on what is right now.

Even if you never get tons of readers, who cares as long as you're enjoying the process? Touching just one reader, seeing them connect with something I've written, is amazing.

I've seen too many young writers give up because no one reads the stuff they put so much effort into. But are those writers writing for themselves or are they writing solely for others?

Writing for an audience is a sure way to fail. Write for yourself first and the readers will follow. Entertain yourself, make yourself cry, surprise yourself, and along the way you'll learn so much, get so much from the act of writing, that does it really matter if you don't have an audience? Success should never be judged by popularity.

We live in a society that likes to equate popularity with success. We are drowning in talent contests and celebrity status, but as I've said before, popularity really isn't that wonderful and it certainly doesn't equal quality. Producing something that makes you happy and helps you grow is far better for you than having loads of followers.

Returning to those original questions... "How do I write a blurb?"

Why not look at other blurbs and assess for yourself what makes them good or bad?

"How do I write a villain?"

Look at your favourite villains and consider what it is you like about them.

"How do I improve my writing?"

Look at examples and practice, practice, practice.

Another thing I see in the wattpad community, is this idea that everyone shares theit first drafts straight away, writing a chapter at a time then posting it. This pressures people to be writing regularly. Then they wonder why their story isn't as good as everyone elses, and how on earth other writers update so frequently. I don't know why people make this assumption or why it's so far fetched to write your multiple drafts off wattpad and only share it when you have made multiple edits.

I understand the benefit from seeing reader feedback as you write, so some writers choose to post each chapter of their first draft as they write it. But there's no rule to say you *have* to do it this way. Write however you want, find your most comfortable method to suit you.

Basically... In the nicest way possible... Figure it out for yourself. Because no one can actually give you the direct answers you're looking for.

Learn how to problem solve. It'll pay off big time in many ways.

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