Writing & Reading the Unfamiliar

I’ve been writing for a long time; roughly six years, and I am now only starting to see acceptances appear in my inbox. There’s a long, bumpy road to that first acceptance response, however the road doesn’t stop once you’re there.

In the circles I run in, I’ve come across many writers. Everyone wants to be published, and everyone is on their own path to achieving that goal, however, once you get your foot in the door, you then realise that you’ve made a small step into a larger field. Let me explain.

Quite simply, when you’ve got that first acceptance, the question you should ask yourself is ‘what now?’ The realisation that dawns upon you is quite sobering – everyone writing, at some point, stands a decent chance of getting something in print. The question isn’t what can you do to be accepted, but what are you going to do to continue to gain acceptance?

The answer is obviously to continue writing, but that’s too simple. What should you be writing? I’ve found that the most rewarding experiences have come from writing outside of my comfort zone. If one finds success in one particular genre, then it can be tempting to do only that. However, that makes you too specialized, and a writer has to be flexible.I’ve found mixing things up has brought more opportunities to succeed, but also, more experiences to learn from. Experience is invaluable to any writer, so always grab opportunities to gain it.

The other thing I would stress is reading a wide variety of things, and no, this isn’t a literature student trying to convince more to join me in my love of old, obscure, epic poetry. Having studied a broad swathe of literature from the beginning to the contemporary, you develop an understanding of what’s going on. Literature isn’t something in isolation – what we write goes back to what has been written before we write. Literary innovation, if you will, doesn’t appear on its own in a vacuum. Rather, literary innovation comes from developments on what has come before.

Reading older works of literature will help you develop a better understanding of literature and literary movements. Don’t think that because something is old it isn’t useful – all works of literature are a toolbox that waits for you to harness. One can argue that Tolkien’s Middle-Earth has become a cultural epoch, and it certainly is the foundation of our contemporary fantasy genre today. Tolkien did not write without research – he freely admitted that his world was based of germanic myth. Smaug, for example, comes from Fafnir and the unnamed Dragon in Beowulf; two literary forebears. Gandalf, when you look at the Old Norse, actually translates as ‘wand-elf’, effectively meaning wizard.

The point I am making is that a writer is always building on what has come before them. Look at what has come before as an opportunity to develop your own writing ability further.

Now go and read some Old Norse epics!





2 thoughts on “Writing & Reading the Unfamiliar

  1. Heh. The trouble with Old Norse epics is that they are all about warfare and violence, grudges that last for eons, immutable disasters. What I mainly came away with from there is that it must have been a terrible time and place to live.


    1. There’s no denying that they are violent, but I find they’re quite honest. For a heroic, warrior society to hold up such an image shows, I think, that it is a culture that was aware of it’s own flaws. I find Beowulf particulary interesting as the fights contrast with the feasting – you get the sense that they’re rather be merry and drinking than having to fight off Grendel.


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