People often ask me for advice about writing. I’ve even given talks about writing to would-be writers. But I don’t think people really like what I have to tell them. You see, a lot of them are members of “writer’s groups” where they swap stories, critique them and go into re-writes. I don’t really believe in those because they’re an example of why a lot of people never manage to finish that novel they’ve been working on for twenty years: they spend too much time talking about writing and not enough time writing. I once infuriated a room full of folks by saying that nothing was scarier to me than somebody with an English degree and a passel full of “How-To” writing guides.
Because that English degree person is probably never going to write a damned thing. They’re going to spin their wheels, talking about this and pondering that, instead of sitting down at the keyboard and pounding the keys.
Look, I’m not the world’s greatest wordsmith. But I write. I write a lot. I don’t sit around on my ass and say “Boy, I’d love to write a book.” I wrote a book. And then I wrote another one.
There’s no “one way” to do it, either. If you like to do 80 page outlines and that works for you, do it. If you like to have a swig of beer, unbutton your pants and then start writing without any clue where you’re going with the story, do it! Never ever, ever, let someone tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Hell, if you’re in a writer’s group and it helps you (ACTUALLY WRITING), then do it. It doesn’t work for me and I can count on one hand the number of folks I’ve met that it did work for, but hell, there are exceptions to every rule.
And by all means, DON’T FEAR WRITING CRAP. Even if you write the worst novel of all time, you’ve still written a novel. That puts you way ahead of all the Charlies and Nancys who spend their lives saying, “I always wanted to write a book!” Besides, you won’t be the first person to write crap and you won’t be the last. Enjoy the fact that you completed a project and then get to work on the next one, so you can move up to mediocre the next time around 🙂
But my main advice to wanna be writers is this:
1. READ. A lot. Look at how things are written and dissect them. Think to yourself, “I like how writer x does that… HOW does he do that?” and try to learn from it.
2. WRITE. A lot. You get better the more you write. You really do. But don’t navel-gaze so much. Finish a damned project and then do some revision but then MOVE ON. Keep going forward. It will never be perfect. Accept that.
3. NETWORK. You need to meet other writers and make friends with them. You never know who might help you someday. How did I become a professional writer? Because a friend of mine worked for Marvel Comics and recommended me for a job. I didn’t submit anything to them — Marvel emailed me, on the basis of my friend’s recommendation. It went from there.
So… here’s my suggestion for today. Stop reading this blog. Stop flipping through that Stephen King book on writing. Stop over-analyzing the act of creation.
And then go CREATE.