I have been a writer for more than six months now and it has been a long, hard slog. What with working as an English Teacher and trying to write at the same time, life can get hard – as I am sure you know if you are reading this.
I must have written over a hundred thousand words in that time, sitting at home, early in the morning, late at night, in cafes, bars, and my bedroom. Most of it is what I would deem utter rubbish (one has to earn money) and that has been one of my mistakes.
The mistake is not that I wrote utter rubbish; it is just that I took too many small useless jobs writing for companies and blogs all around the world that contributed to me burning myself out. I found, as will many of you who are writing for a living, or trying to get on the ladder and working your way towards your first book, that whether you write meaningful words or you write crap, it still takes the same amount of energy (unless it is so utterly awful that you can crank it out like it was going out of fashion with your eyes shut).
So I thought I would give you a few lessons learnt on my journey so far… lessons that we all will have to learn if we are ever going to get that novel done or those short stories written. This distilled wisdom, as I like to think of it, is mine though you may have read it before written by others.
My process of distillation is probably being refined even as you read, like a good vodka or whiskey, maturing and mellowing with age and experience… now I am going off tangent so without any further procrastination here is my list. I am sure you will relate to some of it if not all of it:
1. Read a Book
It doesn’t matter what you like to read, just read… being an English teacher as well as a writer, I find that telling students and other writers to read is compelling for many reasons.
Firstly, reading allows our mind to soak in language, grammar, plot, themes, and ideas while entertaining us at the same time. There is nothing more important for any writer or human being. (And yes, I used the Oxford Comma in that sentence.)
2. Set a routine
I have read so many blogs that tell writers to write whenever the muse shows her (or in Stephen King’s case, his) face. I think this is wrong… you HAVE to set a routine and stick to it. Tell yourself you will write 1000 words or 2000 words per day and stick to them.
Here you can see that Jack London, the prolific American author, wrote come rain or shine, while another favourite of mine who was mentioned earlier likes to write on weekdays. Find your own comfort zone and stick to it. Easier said than done… it’s the old inspiration and perspiration routine that Thomas Edison is so oft quoted for.
3. Find a place that inspires you or lock yourself away – your choice
I like getting out and feeling I am getting inspired while I write… others feel they have to be locked away. The truth is that there is no right or wrong. It’s up to you and whatever feels right, just stick to that routine.
4. Edit down, but only after a break
Write ten thousand words and then leave them for a week or so (longer if you can really bear to hold off)… then go back to them and feel the memories of writing have faded away and the real work begins. Edit down.
By that I mean cut things out rather than add more. Some writers like to fix a percentage to this exercise (which is often good as a target), however, I feel it is more important to edit with a critical eye and you will find that you have chopped and changed about that much naturally without sticking to a scientific formula, it is a creative exercise after all!
- 5. Dont start writing for pennies or writing drivel
As I mentioned earlier, I started writing the usual SEO optimised articles of 500 words for this blog and that ezine. I was writing about 3000 words per day in my spare time and found that after 4 months I was completely burnt out. I went through a dry patch when my muse deserted me because she felt that I had forsaken her I think – or at least that’s what I like to think.
Remember, writing anything takes creativity and creativity is the oxygen we writers need to survive and write. Writing rubbish kills creativity and soon you find that your writing is just another blog post meant to boost your or someone’s sales.
If money is your motivation then go ahead and write, but remember to take a break and write something real. And if the muse deserts you then take a break… switch off your internet and take a couple of good books and get the hell out of dodge for a week or so.
6. Don’t make your book or short story a project – First write then perfect
One can read a great many books on writing (believe me I have read a lot of them) and there is plot and theme analysis and composition and a whole host of other important factors that you need to remember. But the first one is WRITE… WRITE… WRITE.
Just get into the habit and the rest will fall into place as you need it (remember Edison!). Certainly, you have to have an idea however, don’t map out every chapter as if you were writing a corporate operations manual. Have the main themes and characters and then create… Creation is the most important element of your book or idea.
7. Lastly, believe in yourself and your characters
Any book, whether science fiction, romance, a thriller or historical fiction has characters. Make them human, fallible and real… readers want to associate with someone or something. Reality can be created in any surroundings through characters.
Give them depth or make them shallow depending on what effect you are trying to achieve, but most important of all make them real and believable (think JK Rowling and how she made the world of Harry Potter so real with her characters).
And that’s it for now. I will learn and so will you when you get writing. We all, as authors have a story to tell, whether short or long, the main thing is to coax it out of ourselves…