I’ve lost count of the number of writing blogs I’ve read.
Perhaps it’s me but I can’t think of an equivalent creative endeavour so replete with material.
What does this mean?
Writing is hard as hell?
Or, it’s piss-easy and anyone can offer instruction.
Imagine it: J. K. Rowling produces a workshop on Udemy. I bet she wouldn’t have to offer early bird places and flog the sh*t out of it.
I’m not saying that there aren’t a few decent writers out there who aren’t teaching others, but I’m always reminded of the saying:
“Those who can do, those who can’t teach.” ― George Bernard Shaw
With the foregoing in mind, you’d think it mad that I offer any advice but I thought, “Why not, everyone else has had a go — ha ha”.
So, here are my pithy scrawlings, enshrined in the usual, blithe, 10 ‘must-do’ points:
- Before you hammer away at the keyboard, remember that writing is a lifetime endeavour and not a 100m sprint. You might be brimming with ideas and feel the passion coursing through your veins, but give it a few weeks, and I’ll wager that you won’t be quite as enthusiastic. In fact, you’ll find every excuse under the sun not to knock your daily 1,500 words (say) out the park.
- Let your mind wander. I don’t mean to daydream but it’s as well to write a few easy things before you dive headfirst into writing your novel. Of course, if all you feel is the deep sense of longing that comes with writing a book then bury yourself in your sublime brilliance. All I’m saying is that if you’ve not written before, it’s good to get a few words down, even if you’re writing about the weather, your lazy cat or your favourite restaurant. Not that my experience counts for much, but I recognise how being too focused can make your writing brittle or at least a tad listless.
- ‘Don’t try’ — see the work of Charles Bukowski. I know what you’re thinking:“Are you mad, Summerhayes? Don’t try! Surely, that’s a fool’s game. If you’re not pounding out the words day by day, even when you’re not feeling it, it means you’re not a writer. You’re no more than a dilettante.” And so did I for quite a long time. I thought the harder I tried, even if or especially if I wasn’t feeling it, meant I wasn’t living the life of a writer. And I worked my arse off writing my blog so that: a) I could win work; b) I could get my name up the faux Google rankings; and c) in time, I could call myself a writer. What a loser. I was exhausted. I did feel sometimes that I wasn’t trying but I mostly did that through the thick fog of a red-wine haze. But you and I both know, if you’re doing your best work — in writing or any other discipline — it shouldn’t feel like you’re constantly seeking out the muse for inspiration or whatever else she’s got in store for you.
- Show up. I know, you’ve heard it many times before, but I don’t just mean to write a few mellifluous lines. I mean to show up all body, mind and spirit. And it’s not easy, particularly when you’re trying to run your life.
- They say great writing is all in the edit. And they’re right. But then again, too many people try to do this as they go along and not in the future. I wouldn’t. I’d get your shitty first draft written and then worry about the grammar, syntax and format over the course of the next few days — unless you’re writing to a deadline.
- Give yourself a day off. I know Stephen King writes every day of the year, as do many other writers, but there’s no shame in having a day off from sitting at your keyboard hunting down the inspiration. The only slight caveat to this point is perhaps to still write but to do so with a pen and paper. Of late, that’s what I’ve been doing. In fact, I’ve taken a bit of an extended break from writing with a keyboard and I’ve taken to writing in an A4 book.
- Write to be published. OK, I’ve got no track record in this area save two self-published books but with all the platforms that now exist, why shouldn’t you, before having your sights set on going mainstream, publish your own material? Trust me, if you’re any good, you’ll get picked up.
- Read, read and read some more. I read every day. And I don’t just read the material that I’m writing. I’m always reading something. It helps me in a number of ways: a) I can see that my writing isn’t that bad; b) I get pleasure out of it; and c) it gives me ideas. If you haven’t got time to read, you might try an audiobook. I’ve long since given up my Audible subscription but I’ve enough material there — around 40 books — to make sure I never run out of material. Some books I’ve listened to well over half-a-dozen times but it doesn’t matter. I always pick up something new.
- You won’t get rich or at least I don’t think you will. If you’re writing for fame or money, forget it. Do something else. I’m not saying you won’t earn some money, but having looked at a few writers, their royalties are minimal. If there’s a reason for this, apart from the quality of the writing, it’s the fact that there are more titles than ever before.
- Finally, writing is cathartic. Not always, but when you’re in the zone, nothing else matters and you’ll find solemnity and peace that’s hard to find in any other discipline.
I’m well aware that if I was to follow my own advice that you’d expect me by now to have written many more books — and that’s true — but then again, perhaps my writing, at least to this point, has been more about changing me, than trying to influence an audience.