The Mini Cooper School of Writing

February 24, 2008

So I’m safely back at my desk, with 14,672 submissions to read and an inbox that’s emitting radioactive sparks (actually, just kidding about the number of submissions: it’s really 14,671). One email, however, has particularly stuck in my mind, and I’m hoping my correspondent won’t mind me mentioning it (in the interests of the Higher Good of other readers). This emailer tells me that they’ve been wanting to write a book for ages and are now seeking an agent to guide them through the novel-writing process. Hmm, yes. Well actually, the best thing is really to write the novel first – BEFORE you seek an agent. But it brings me back to something I’ve mentioned before – that with so many support groups and networking opportunities available, it may be easy to forget that the real point of it all is . . . sitting down and doing the writing!
Which brings me to what I shall call the Mini Cooper School of Writing. You see, when I first came to the States last Fall, my husband very kindly sold the ‘man-car’ (a big black thing) and we invested in a snappy red-and-black Mini Cooper (please note, it does about 40 miles to the gallon which makes it quite a suitable Greenhouse vehicle). Boy, that is one sweet motor! One touch of my cowboy boot to the accelerator and those minivans are history . . . But I digress. The thing is, after toy-town Britain, driving here seemed very scary: such huge highways, so many lanes, so few road signs. It seemed all too likely that I’d be swept off down to Richmond or somewhere, never to be seen again. So, I spent a lot of time memorising maps, learning road names and even programming the Garmin – anything rather than actually venture out on to the streets! Until suddenly I got it: making mistakes was not only inevitable, it was actually the only way I was going to learn. There was no way around getting hooted occasionally at the lights or having rude signs made at me when I chose the wrong filter lane. It was all simply a necessary part of gaining confidence – and making sure I never made the same mistake twice. And gradually, very gradually, I’ve improved.

So don’t be scared. Boot up the computer, work out your plot and get writing. It may be rubbish, but in six months time you may be capable of something better than rubbish. Expose your writing to your harshest critic and keep working and working to improve it; be prepared to tear it up and start again if you’re not 100% happy with it. Don’t jump to find an agent – regard yourself as a writing in training, apprenticed to your craft. After all, if you were learning to paint would you think yourself ready to exhibit in a few weeks?

Put your pedal to the metal and get going. It’s a Mini Cooper world!

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