07 Jan 2015

STOP Dreaming About Being A Writer

Happy 2015!  I bet that within the millions of New Year’s Resolutions made so far this new year, there are at least some that go like this:

“This year I will start writing that book I’ve been thinking about.”

“This year I will write more of that book I made a bit of a start on last year/the year before last/several years ago.”

My advice to anyone who nods in recognition of these declarations – stop dreaming about it, stop thinking about it, stop even just planning to do it.  Either DO IT or DON’T DO IT!

To coin a true cliché (aren’t all cliches true?) – life is short.  There comes a point when we have to decide to wholeheartedly pursue a long held dream or (cue Elsa!) let it go.

To say that writing a book to a publishable standard is a long hard process is a massive understatement.  Add to that the complex and difficult process of getting published and it can feel like you’re scaling the literary equivalent of Mount Everest.  A writer has to be completely sold out on either the act of writing or the story they’re telling or both. 

It might sound like I’m trying to put you off.  Perhaps I am.  Too many people have this lovely idea that writing a book is sitting at a desk for a few months/years, having a delightful creative time tantamount to skipping in the sunshine and dancing among the clouds, before sending the manuscript off to a publishing house who embrace it with open arms and put it on the Bestseller shelves in Waterstones.  I wish.

Being a writer is HARD!  So hard that you will consider stopping time and time again. You will only make it through if you can affirm the truth of this quote:

“If you can quit, then quit.  If you can’t quit, you’re a writer.” R.A. Salvatore.

Writers are a crazy bunch who face a ton of (hopefully mainly constructive) criticism in order to get their book as perfect as possible, before facing possible agent rejections and the potential that even a wonderful book may not get published because a publishing company can’t see how to make enough money out of it…and yet they cannot do anything other than keep writing.  It’s an unrelenting addiction.

If you’re still here and that little flicker of hope that you might be able to be a writer is still burning, then hurray!  Don’t abandon all hope.  Just like climbing Everest there’s a hell of a lot of work and preparation and training to do to achieve that goal and not everybody makes it, but it can be done!

These are two of the most helpful and powerful pieces of advice I’ve come across for aspiring writers.  First things first:

Writers write.

The ridiculous simplicity of those two words hides the power of their revelation.  Writers do dream, imagine, plan and think, but ultimately – and the clue is in the name – writers write.  Stop wondering if your idea is any good or if you can write well.  Can you put one word down on paper?  Great, do it.  Can you add another one?  Do that too.  And then do it again.  And again.  Ad infinitum.  In the beginning it really is that simple.  Editing, crafting and shaping your novel is something to worry about later.  Not now.  Just write.

People who dream of being a writer nearly always say that they don’t know where to begin or that they’re afraid that what will come out won’t be very good.

That’s entirely justified and correct.  Whatever you first write will almost certainly be rubbish.  If you do manage to spill out perfect prose straight onto the page first time then you’re a bona fide genius, the literary equivalent of Mozart (although, as I’ve blogged previously, even he had to put in his 10,000 hours before he became truly great).

The second piece of advice can seem weird when you first hear it:

Have the courage to write badly.

Writers want to write well.  No one wants to sit down and write a shitty first draft.  We adore words.  We love to create magic with them.  We want to write something wonderful immediately. But we can’t.  Just because you can walk doesn’t mean you’re capable of climbing Everest.  Just because you can put a few words on a page doesn’t mean you can write a good book.  Both are activities with an unimaginable amount of hard slog in between the first step and success.  But the ability to walk is a prerequisite for climbing Everest and the act of writing is essential to having a book published.

If you want to be a writer, then you’ll have to be brave enough to write badly.  You will get better.  But you probably will be bad to start with.  Perhaps even completely awful.  Gather up your courage, grit your teeth, flex your fingers and write.  Bad writing only turns into good writing through practice, learning and editing – not through wishful thinking and dreaming.

So stop dreaming!  Do it or don’t do it.  Make a New Year's Resolution, but reality check it too.  And whatever you choose to do – good luck!


(P.S.  Why not travel along with me on my journey as I work out my NY resolution to push on hard with writing this year?   Pop your email address in the "Subscribe To Updates" box top right of the page and you'll receive new blog posts directly to your email inbox.)

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