It's important to have laws to live by in all aspects of your life! This week, we're spilling the ink on our golden rules when it comes to writing. We're sharing some hard learned lessons and (in our humble opinions) we think we've rustled together some pretty useful nuggets of wisdom and advice...
Write whatever you want.
Don't write what you think you should be writing. Or what you've been told is worthwhile. You don't have to write in a certain form or a certain style. You don't have to write a serious novel. Your poetry doesn't have to be romantic. Write whatever you feel like writing.
Don't force it.
In order to write something that you are pleased with, it has to be natural. I know one of the most common 'rules' among writers is often "Force yourself to write every day". I think that's naff. Take a week off if you feel like it. You have to want to write, otherwise there's no point. You should enjoy writing. You cannot force writing out of yourself. It has to come out naturally. Take essay writing for example. You have to force yourself to get through an essay that doesn't interest you and it feels like an uphill battle, doesn't it? But when an essay topic interests you, it comes out more easily; it feels fantastic. That's because you don't have to force it.
Learn to appreciate your own work.
Writers, as a species, are far too quick to disregard their own achievements. Everything we write is worthless drivel and we let ourselves know it. Every time we pick up a pen, or open our laptops, we wonder why we're even trying. Every time we edit our work or go back and read something old, we scoff at our sheer inability to compose a worthwhile sentence. That's just in our nature - as writers, and as humans. What I'm suggesting is that we learn to stop hating ourselves and the work that we create. We must learn to look at our own writing and say "Fuck. This is good." If you've written a story that rips your heart out, a poem that makes you cry - even just a blinder of a sentence. Acknowledge that. Tell yourself "I am good. That right there, on that page, is proof. I am a writer, and a good one, too."
Try new things
Even when you're convinced you'll be terrible at it, give it a go. I discovered some of my favourite styles / forms by just giving it a good old go and hoping for the best. Plus, once you've tried it, you're totally justified in despising the idea of ever trying it again! (It's a win-win.)
Remember to take a break
There's this weird kind of assumption / pressure for artists, writers included, to pull all-nighters, work unhealthy hours and overstretch just to make it "worth it", particularly if you write as a career. Realistically, your time and expertise are just as valuable as someone who works a "normal" (whatever that means) job. Take breaks, look after yourself and remember you don't have to prove anything.
Write what makes you feel
Happy, sad, angry, totally and utterly heartbroken; it doesn't matter. Create work that makes you feel something. It will automatically make your writing better and will make you feel more fulfilled. I've always noticed such a difference between my work before and after I started writing with my feelings, it's a game changer and will always be a golden rule for me.
Protect your precious
Don’t share your work too early. It’s absolutely human nature to notice all the positive things about someone else’s work, and all the problems with your own, so all you’ll achieve is a loss of self-confidence; you’ll find yourself falling out of love with what you’re writing, and probably won’t bother finishing it. Obviously, if you’re in a workshopping situation, you’re going to have to read other people’s stuff, but honestly, if you’re writing something you really, really care about, and it’s very early days, protect it. Take something else to workshop, and leave your little baby at home until it’s a bit more robust.
Don’t speak and spoil
The most dangerous question for a writer?
‘What’s it about?’
If you answer this question in anything other than very vague terms, you will find that when you return to your work, you have absolutely nothing to give. You won’t want to write your story, because you’ll have already told it, and thus drained it of every bit of creative energy. Once you’ve created your characters, set the scene, explained the plot and divulged the denouement; there’s nothing left to say. Your writing won’t be fresh and vibrant. It’ll be a rewrite.
So, if the Danger Question comes your way, a simple, ‘Oh, I don’t really know yet, I’m still feeling my way,’ should do the trick. Then excuse yourself, go home, and write.
Trust your process
Some writers sit down at their desk at nine o’clock every morning and write for four hours straight (apparently, although I’ve never met one.)
Other writers write nothing for months at a time, then disappear into their pit, emerging six weeks later with a full manuscript and a case of scurvy.
Quite a lot of writers have a favourite table in a local coffee shop, where they are able to write quite contentedly, seemingly fuelled by a combination of noise, interruption and caffeine. Others can only write in bed.
There are writers who can only write in silence, and others who need loud music blasting at them if they are going to be able to concentrate.
There’s no right way, or wrong way. The only time to question your process is if it’s not working for you. If, say, a year has gone by and you haven’t really produced anything you’re happy with, then it might be time to have a rethink. Are you prioritising your writing? Could you give it more time? Do you need a room of one’s own, or at least a corner of a room?
But, if you’re happy with your work rate, enjoy your writing time, and feel creatively fulfilled, then it really doesn’t matter if you write every day, or only every second Wednesday on a blue moon. Your writing process is as unique as what you produce, so learn to trust yourself.
Don’t delete anything
If you write something you think is crap, don’t delete it. You don’t have to pursue it right now, but it could come in useful later. That thing you wrote that makes you want to vomit in your mouth a little bit might just need to gestate a little longer before it turns into something awesome. It might become the spark of something really inspired later down the line. It might already be a fantastic idea, but you may lack the skill or life experience to do it justice - yet. Keep your literary hairballs safe; they might become something one day. And if they don’t, what have you lost?
Learn to love cutting
This is one of the hardest skills to learn, but probably one of the most valuable. If you can’t learn to love it, then at least try to learn how to do it without giving in to the urge to crack open your own skull and scratch your itchy brain. If you find cutting hard, try this hack: make a copy and put that copy in a drafts folder; then you can go ham without feeling like you’ve lost anything.
Figure out how to become cut-throat with your prose. Cut everything that is unnecessary or doesn’t come up to scratch. From single words (*cough*adjectives*cough*) to paragraphs or even entire scenes. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it. If it’s padding, cut it. If it’s not good enough, do surgery and reshape it. Don’t worry, you’ve still got the original saved in your drafts folder.
If you find that you like an idea, or the substance behind what you’ve written, but the way you’ve articulated it could be better, then consider reading it through and then writing it from scratch. Sometimes instead of a patch job, you’ll get better results from coming at something fresh, when trying to re-flesh the bones isn’t working.
Stop listening to people who tell you how to be a writer
One thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that people really love to tell you how to write. It’s amazing when you find something that works for you; it’s a mistake to evangelise that method as the only thing that works.
If you’re feeling disheartened because you can’t make someone else’s method work for you, I’ve got great news: It doesn’t matter. People work in different ways. Not everything works for everyone. If you find that forcing yourself to get up an hour early every day and churn out two thousand words doesn’t work for you, or even worse, is starting to erode your enjoyment for what you’re doing, then screw up that fool-proof method and chuck it in the bin. Try lots of different things. Cherry pick. Find what works for YOU. Take all advice labelled as the ‘best way’ with a pinch of salt.
And when you’ve found your personal formula for success, feel free to share it but don’t try to ram it down anyone’s throat!
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Cover image by A_Different_Perspective via Pixabay