I try never to give people advice about writing. It seems presumptuous at best, but worse, it implies there is a right way to write.
So my first piece of advice about writing is to ignore anyone who tells you there is a correct way to write (especially the hag at the front of your English classroom who thinks spelling, punctuation and diagramming sentences are more important than creativity and storytelling). But beyond that, I don’t believe that any two of my works got written the same way so I can’t imagine that trying to emulate someone else’s technique would be productive. I don’t believe any writer who says that any two books of theirs were written in exactly the same way. They might have been, but I can’t believe it unless all their books are just alike in which case I don’t want their advice.
I’m also leery of those people who make writing sound like this awful, painful, excruciating chore. They whinge on and on about how hard it is. How they throw out most of what they commit to the page. How nothing is good enough and how writing is the most arduous soul destroying career one could choose. My advice to them, offered freely, is “If you hate writing that much, you’re in the wrong business.” Either that, or they’ve taken someone else’s advice about the right way to write and are making themselves miserable by denying their own process and allowing that to change, evolve and grow with each page and word they write.
To be fair, I do always tell people who are considering writing or any artistic, creative or entertainment related profession the same thing. If you can do anything else and be happy, do anything else. I don’t think the work is hard, if you love it, but the business is brutal and crushing and offers far more rejection than it does success. That said, I know I could not be happy doing anything else, so here I am.
Then I suppose my next bit of advice is that if you must write then you must fall in love with writing. Whatever that means. If you are to do it, you must find a way to love the doing of it.
If you’re new at it, this is where talking to other writers might actually help. Their experience — their failures probably more than their successes — can be of some benefit. Letting other people make your mistakes can save you a great deal of time. For me the mistakes are much easier to see in someone else’s writing (cause I’m kind of a bitch.)
But it’s a love affair with writing that will make you a writer.
When I wrote my first novel, Say Uncle, I sat in a very uncomfortable Lucite folding chair at a glass table. I wrote in long hand, on yellow legal pads in black, Pilot Razor Point pen. I had three other jobs at the time, so I only had Saturday mornings to write. What I discovered that meant was that I had to spend Friday night getting EVERTHING done. The house had to be clean, the floors waxed, the car washed, the dry cleaning delivered or picked up, the sock drawer sorted, the canned goods alphabetized, EVERYTHING. I even needed to make plans for Saturday evening or at the very least Sunday brunch. Only in that way could I keep my butt in that chair on my precious Saturday morning and write.
It sounds just awful to me now, but that’s where I really fell in love with writing. I’d get up, put the coffee on, take a shower and sit down with a steaming mug, a clean ashtray and a carton of cigarettes. I’d take my first sip of dark, strong French roast, light the first Marlboro, upcap the pen and lean in to those yellow pages. And when I looked up, it would be night time. It was like the Witch and the Wardrobe. For all those Saturday hours, I was just gone. I came to understand the power of creation that holds writers in thrall. I spent those weekend mornings in a world of my own making.
And I was hooked.
I was already working as a writer, but the freedom of those Saturday mornings sticks with me. It’s the high I’m always chasing when I sit down to face a blank page.
I skipped typewriters. They were around but I couldn’t bear re-typing. I’ve since learned to compose on a computer. I quit smoking – yuck! – and gave up coffee – sniff, sniff. The internet has been invented which makes research an instantaneous and integral part of writing as opposed to the time burning field trips, interviews and hours at the library that used to be mandatory and which I still find a great deal of fun—probably because they’re now optional.
There have been periods when I did all my writing on a laptop in bed. A lot of The Prince’s Psalm was written on a chaise lounge that used to be in Anne Rice’s living room and is now in mine. I’m back at a desk these days, but we’ll see. I’ve got friends who write at coffee shops and public places but I’m just too social for all that temptation.
Insofar as learning how to write, I’ve only one piece of advice. Read. I learned to write by reading. And then I got better at writing by writing. I’ve never had a writing class. I’m bad enough at spelling and punctuation and the like to suspect that I have some undiagnosed learning disabilities that preclude my being able to learn those things or make heads or tails of numbers. But I have learned how to tell a story by reading other story tellers and I’ve gotten better at story telling by telling stories.
And that’s really all I’ve got.
If you want to read a long book about writing I suspect that you’re just avoiding work, but reading other people’s writing will only improve yours — even if it’s just to see what bad storytellers they are! Oh, but when their work inspires me there’s nothing that makes me want to write more.
So, if you want to write, then write. Fearlessly. Get it wrong. Learn from your mistakes. Do it again. Do better. But more than anything, if you want to write fall in love with writing.
The Prince Psalm and my other novels are available here in all formats and platforms: http://thedinnerpartyshow.com/albums/the-princes-psalm/