Posted by: Alice Fitzpatrick | August 10, 2014

What I Learned About Being a Writer From Lewis Carroll Part 1

As a child my favourite books were those that helped me to escape into the deep recesses of my imagination, books with settings that had no relation to real life as I knew it, books that described fantasy worlds where I longed to not only visit but stay.  I wanted to fight pirates with Pippi Longstocking, fly away with Peter Pan to Neverland, and to tumble down rabbit holes with Alice to Wonderland.  But even though I grew up and learned to live in the real world (as much as a mystery writer can), Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass remained two of my favourite books.

Recently revisiting these books, I realized that many of their more memorable quotations could be applied to the writing process.  So I thought I would share some of them with you over the next few weeks.

Keep Writing and You Will Get Where You Want to Go

“Cheshire Puss,” she began, rather timidly . . . “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“– so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

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I have read more than once that everyone wants to be a writer, but far fewer people actually want to write.  Writing is hard work. More than one author has lamented it’s like sweating blood.

One lesson I’ve learned is not to get hung up on how everyone else does it.  Their way is not necessarily mine.  Many writers set a daily word count, and it can be intimidating to the rest of us when they post their numbers on Twitter or Facebook.  Some people get up early and write before they go to work. Others stay up late.  Some write on the subway or the train or while waiting for medical appointments. Everyone is different.

Even though I’d published short stories in literary journals for many years, when I committed myself to writing a series of novels, I felt like I was learning to write all over again.  I started to look for advice on the “right” way to write a book.  With a short story, I simply sat down and started to write.  If it didn’t work, I’d only wasted a couple of hours, days at the most.

But a novel, well, that was a commitment that would last for years, so I was desperate to get it right.  I suspected that I should do as much planning as possible since a mystery is dependent on the revelation of clues and the planting of red herrings.  But how much was enough?

I wanted someone to tell me how to do it, so I could save myself as much heartache — and rewrites — as possible.  My goal was to write a book good enough to be published. Never mind the journey.  For me it was all about the destination.  But after struggling through more drafts, rewrites, and edits than I care to remember, I realize that the only way I could have learnt my preferred method of writing was by actually writing the book.

I recently read Making Story: Twenty-One Writers on How They Plot, edited by Timothy Hallinan, a book in which mystery writers discuss just what the title says: how they create plot.  There’s such a wide range of experiences here that everyone will surely see his or her preferred method of working reflected.  After reading this book I take comfort in knowing that my particular way of writing is the method of choice of more than one successful writer, and no matter which method they use, these published writers all get there in the end.

So whether you write in the morning or the evening, plot like a fiend or make it up as you go along, as long as you can keep at it, you will get there.  To paraphrase the Cat, trust that your writing will get you somewhere if you keep at it long enough.

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Responses

  1. Good advice. I think too many authors forget this–and it’s understandable, with blogs, promotion, and everything else we can waste time with (like me right now haha). Simply writing remains the best way to get better at the craft 🙂

    • I agree. It’s too easy to get sidetracked, especially where we’re either trying to attract an agent/publisher or promote what we’ve already published. Too many other author-related activities cut into the simple joy of sitting down and writing.

      • Exactly. And given the number of self-pubbed authors on WordPress… Kinda makes you wonder if all that “building a base” is worth it.

  2. There has been lots of research done to the effect that social media doesn’t equate to increased book sales. In case you haven’t seen this, here is an interesting blog and chart that addresses this very issue as regards self-published books. http://tarasparlingwrites.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/what-makes-people-buy-self-published-books/
    However, having said this, I know someone who self-published a book of what was his opinions about anything that came into his head and refused to do any social media other than post a video expressing same said opinions on Youtube. He also managed to convince half a dozen people to post five star reviews on Goodreads. So far no sales because no one knows the book exists!

  3. […] What I Learned About Being a Writer From Lewis Carroll Part 1 […]


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