Let Me Riff – We’re All Just Figuring It Out: A Writer’s Journey

| Finding Your Way | Figuring Out “Writing” |
| The Writing Formula | Discovering Your Formula |
| Your Homework | Contact Me |

I’m going to upset a few people when I say this, but there is no one true way for anything. At least, when it comes to methodology.

Alright, I say that, but as soon as I say it, my mind thinks about methodology for cooking or tying a knot, and when to tie the right knot. Okay, so for those kinds of things, there are true ways. You know that if you move the rope the right way around itself, you’re going to get a secure figure 8 knot. You know that if you don’t over beat the eggs whites, you’ll get a firm…what is that called? Egg white whip?

But I digress (Sidenote: here is a song I love called “I digress. Click here.)

May Reminders

Finding Your Way

What I want to say is that for advice on how to make your own way, or make even the “standard” way in life, there is no one true to the course piece of advice. You have to figure it out for yourself.

High school + University + Career + Marry + Babies + Retire ≠ Success for everyone. For a many people, that does make success. But not everyone has that privilege and not everyone wants their lives to be that linear.
And that’s ok. You can make your own Path.

The beauty of the rainbow is all the colors that make it up. We are human beings, living in a complicated world, and we ourselves are complicated. We are a colorful tapestry that makes up humanity, and likewise, our own intricacies make up our own prismic individualities.

To find what is right for us, we have to work to explore and experiment and figure it out for ourselves.

And that’s what writing is.

The existential Crisis of the pen, trying to figure itself out.
A video I made in college: Proof that not everything is gold. But hey, I got an A

Figuring Out “Writing”

Because we all work differently, we need to figure out what works best for us in our writing style, our voice, our genre, and how we go about success, however it’s defined. We are our own unique beings, and thus, there is no sure-fire path to get what we want from our writing.

In an Instagram video last week, I compared writing to starting up a business. There is plenty of advice out there on how to do it, and as well as the best marketing plans, when and how to post on social media, how to grow your email list, and so on.

Likewise, there is just as much contradicting information out there, giving a complete different set of recommendations on how to find success for your budding business.

And me, as my own small, budding business, I’m having to figure this out as I go along. I’m having to do the research and figure out what works best for me, my niche, my personal goals, and how best I can serve my audience. While I know my service very well—that is, I know how to talk writing and help my clients—the marketing aspect is a bit fiddly.

Writing is just the same.

The Writing Formula

There’s a wonderful book by Sean M. Platt and Johnny Truant called The Fiction Formula. In their introduction they state, very blatantly, against the title of their book, “There is no formula, ladies and gentleman.”

I laughed when I read that line. I bought the book, curious because I know there is no formula. There are general guidelines, but there is no true-to-the-mark, success-every-time formula. And I wanted to see how these guys went about proving that there was one.

I was delighted to see their thinking as aligned with mine, in their unique brand (And believe you, me. They have a beautifully unique brand).

Discovering Your Formula

You can read the greats, which I recommend you do. I recommend that you discover who you feel the greats are as well.

You can take on the advice of the greats. You can follow story structure to the letter, and you can know the ins and outs of the market. But until you put this information to the test, and test it repeatedly, it’s all just figuring it out.

The Evolving Writer

No story is the same as another. No voice is the same as another. No reader and no writer are the same as another. And I dare say, that no writer is the same once they’ve completed their work in progress and move onto the next. We are always changing and evolving, and thus, our work is, too.

I can give the writing prompt of “A letter arrived,” to a group of a hundred writers, and they will likely come up with a different story or situation from that prompt. Even if they settled on the same situation, each writer would have a different way of telling that story.

Why does this matter? Because every writer is different. We all come from different backgrounds, education systems, social systems, class systems, family situations. We all have different interests, read different things, and we all think differently. We’re all a part of the rainbow tapestry.

And thus, if we all follow the same pieces of advice to create a book, we are all going to come up with something different.

We All Have to Figure It Out

Each book you write is just practice. No matter if you publish it and are wildly successful with it, you’re still practicing. There is no such thing as a mastery of an art. Our technique and execution will evolve as we do.

Is there an author who you read religiously? Who you’ve read from start to finish, from their first book to their most recent? Have you seen how they differ? They are trying new ways of writing, new ideas, no voices, new techniques and styles, and finding what fits them best.

And thus, we must do the same. We must figure our own formula out.

Your Home Work

I have two pieces of homework for you. The first piece of homework involves leaving a comment below. This is for you and other people, so you can learn from each other. The other piece of homework is just for you (unless you want to share it—you are more than welcome!).

First Homework Assignment

The first homework assignments involves considering the colors of the rainbow and examining how you define them. To get you started, the basic colors of a rainbow are:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Black
  • Brown
  • White

Alright, maybe the last three aren’t what you see in the sky when you look up, but they’re still beautiful colors in their own right.

Write three items that are each color. So, three red things, three orange things, three yellow things, etc. Take this a step further and define the shade of the color for each thing. For example, red wine might be described as burgundy, or even purple.

The purpose of this exercise is to be able to see the different ways we each understand basic colors, what we associate each color with, and how we further describe each color. It shows our diversity in thinking, but also is a reminder that we all operate in different ways enough that we can interpret stories and directions differently.

Please share your answers below.

Second Homework Assignment

Think about one specific piece of writing advice that you’ve heard, and then come up with a list of ways to interpret that piece of advice. Then, write the opposite of that piece of writing advice and see if you can make it work.

Some common writerly advice:

  • Never start a story with:
    • The MC looking in the mirror
    • “It was a dark and stormy night…” or any other descriptor of the weather
    • A dream sequence
  • Don’t mind hop, that is, don’t go from inside one character’s mind to another
  • Always finish a story where it started
  • Avoid adverbs
  • Avoid speech tags other than “said,”
  • Avoid detailed descriptions of characters

These are just to get you started.

Know that every single one of these rules/pieces of advice have been broken by writers, and have been brilliantly executed. I swear Salman Rushdie spent three pages describing a man’s nose in Midnight’s Children. And he did it beautifully. Likewise, in Bleak House, Charles Dickens is in and out of every character’s mind in a scene (with the exceptions of the chapters from Esther’s perspective).

Play. Figure it out. What works for you?

If you have a writing group, or some writer friends, have them each play with this exercise as well and swap. Ask each other if you guys managed to pull off breaking the rules, and if not, how you might be able to improve it.


Happy writing!

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Published by

Nicola Thompson

Born and raised in the Pacific North West (Washington State to be specific), I'm currently living on a farm, raising chickens, and writing in North Yorkshire. A former editor of Durham University's online magazine, The Bubble, I also write for the magazine Carpe Nocturne, and have several short stories published in a variety of anthologies.

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