The Hardest and Most Important Realization about Writing


We all have those moments when things just click into place (and sometimes you feel daft for not realizing them sooner). There have been several such moments over the years for me and writing, and I hope many more, but one particular realization has stuck with me. Its something I have the most trouble conveying to others, yet I feel is very important in fiction which I believe only the most lucky manage to write well without considering.

And here it is: Writing is about prompting other’s imaginations, not simply reminding yourself of yours

I guess if I really want the idea to catch on I need a snappier phrase like ‘show, don’t tell.’ Anyway, anyone who sits down to write, and even those that have just ‘always had that book idea just never got around it’ have great imaginations. Its almost a inevitable human condition to have stories bubbling away inside our skulls, and most people see writing fiction as a sort of cataloging of said imagination.

Now there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, that’s not the point of my realization, but rather than when many, dare I even say most, people compose stories they never get beyond the point of writing the words that link to the images in their heads, and don’t move onto language that sparks the imagination of a reader. Anyone who has done critiques of other’s works is bound to have come across the common defensiveness of an author basically saying ‘well that’s how it happens in my head,’ when asked about points that aren’t quite working that they refuse to change.

I’m not saying that writers should bow down to the idol of marketability and make their work appeal to all people, rather I’m saying that anyone who wants to write for others needs to craft words that prompt the reader’s imagination not try to explain or describe what’s going on in their heads as the canon of their story (and yet this is what many writers feel loyal to.)

As an aside often I recommend to friends to save a copy of a first draft and/or a story that feels most true to them because editing can feel like a sort of deviation or corrupting of a ‘true’ story, and saving that somewhere tends to make a writer feel more comfortable making changes to their work.

So the main drift of my hard to explain concept requires a bit of psychological know-how: when it comes to memories we can often use cues to remind ourselves of past events, or in the case of fiction, our own imagined stories. Our own writing often serves as such a cue, the first words we lay down for a story being intertwined with the very ideas in our brains. Unfortunately this can be a bit of trap, since this link exists for us the authors, the words we have written evoke all the things we imagined.

It’s kind of hard to provide an example because the very process defies a shareable exemplar!

Imagine a movie scene, lets say your favourite fight sequence ever. You could attempt to write that into prose, and probably whenever you picked up that writing it would remind you of the scene from the movie, because you a. know the movie and b. know that the writing is about that movie scene. However do you think a naive reader would pick up your words and see the exact movie scene in their head? No, they would have their own imagination piqued by the words.

It’s probably one of the biggest difference between movies and books. In movies they try and convince you that the movie is actually happening to a character(s) shown directly to you, fiction tries to convince you you’re being told a story of some ‘truth.’ (Whoops tangent)

To summarize my slightly wafflely, hard to understand tired-head idea: the goal of a writer is to produce words that spark a reader’s imagination, one of the biggest barriers to this is not to much our own, but rather the link that our ideas have with the words we put to the page. If you write for yourself this is probably all you need, but if your goals include writing for others you need to have a skill in crafting words on their own merit, not the meaning they have for you.


What do people think, did any of that make sense? What realizations helped you grow as writers?



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