Normally I wouldn’t presume to write a list like this, but I did it for a blog post on a book tour a while back (and for which I have, annoyingly, lost the link) and the material seemed worth sharing so I have reworked some of it here. Hope you find it helpful!
10 Things I Learned About Writing
I’ve been writing – and earning my living as a wordsmith of one sort or another – for well over a decade. And though I never stop learning (I hope, at least), there are some nuggets that I would have liked to know from the off. So, here are some of the occasionally hard-earned lessons I’ve picked up on the way. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
There’s never a right time to write…
I spent years putting off writing a novel until I ‘had the time’ – only to discover, surprise surprise, I never had the time. Most people write their first big project in the corners of their days, and even established writers have to juggle numerous responsibilities. Now I actually can dedicate big chunks of time to writing, I often find they are my least productive periods. 15 minutes a day adds up to a novel faster than a whole year of ‘sometime’.
But some things can’t be rushed
Some projects need a decent gestation period, and no matter how much you want to progress them, they come at their own pace. I carried my first novel, Doll, around for about four years before I felt ready to write it, with only the first and the last page perfectly formed: then I wrote the whole thing in a few short months. And sometimes you have to be realistic about how long a big project can take, much as you’d like it to be done – especially when you have other commitments. It’s counterproductive to beat yourself up because life has got in the way.
People will be incredibly supportive…
When you commit to writing, or get published, you’ll be astonished by how supportive some people are, even people who you don’t know well. Strangers will pop out of the woodwork to offer you opportunities, the least expected people will turn out to be your biggest fans. There’s a village out there to help you – find it, and cultivate it.
But maybe they won’t
Some people – even people who are close to you and care about you – just won’t get it. They won’t understand why it’s important. Or they’ll be too busy, or they’ll think it’s a pie in the sky fantasy, or they’ll be jealous, or they’ll genuinely think you are a terrible writer and they shouldn’t be encouraging you. Don’t waste time trying to figure out which of these reasons it is – or worrying about how true they might be. Just focus on your own work and spend time appreciating those who ARE being supportive.
Build a team
Whether this is other writers in a writing group or class, a beta team to read your first drafts, a community of bloggers, or even just a few supportive friends who’ll take you for a beer to drown your sorrows or celebrate your successes, assemble people to help you on your writing journey.
Done is better than perfect
Look up your absolute favourite book on Amazon or Goodreads – the book you have read 100 times, and can quote at random, and have pushed onto friends and strangers alike. I guarantee – I absolutely guarantee – if it has more than a handful of reviews, at least some of those will be from people who think it’s a giant pile of poo. No book is flawless – and trying to be the first person to reach perfection will be your undoing. The only book that is never criticised is the one that stays in your desk drawer forever – otherwise, everyone on your writing journey, from agent to publisher to person on the bus, will have an opinion that might differ strongly from your own. Putting out an imperfect book is better than having a constantly tinkered with masterpiece that nobody ever gets to read.
Every first draft is terrible*
Don’t let that stop you. It’s not a first draft’s job to be good. Its job is to be done.
But the final version should be as good as you can make it
Write. Rewrite. Rewrite some more. Get feedback. Rewrite again. Edit, edit and edit again.
(*Disclaimer: They are a rare breed, but there are some writers who do all the prep in their heads and produce something pretty close to finished from the bat. Not needing to rewrite multiple times doesn’t make you lazy or undisciplined or mean you are settling for a version that could be better with a bit of effort. But it might take you a while to figure out if you are one of those writers, or if you are just trying to avoid the painful slog of reworking something that you had hoped was finished. As with pretty much everything to do with creativity – and life – the trick is being honest with yourself about what works for you, and putting it consistently into practice.)
Not everyone will like your book
And that will hurt your feelings – but you might also benefit from it. Learning to differentiate between constructive feedback that you can utilise to make yourself a better writer and criticism (even valid criticism) that you need to ignore is one of the hardest skills to learn but it will stand you in good stead. This is especially tough when someone offers a perfectly valid critique of your work and you have to go ‘you’re right, and that might make it better in a way, but doing that will turn this into something I don’t want it to be’. (There’s a great story in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic on how to cope with this – it’s a book worth reading if you struggle with perfectionism and self-doubt.)
It’ll all be worth it
Even if you don’t end up rich and famous. Even if you never publish – or even finish – a book. Exploring your own creativity is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do, and though it might occasionally drive you crazy, you won’t regret it.
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Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues
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