Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The one piece of writing advice I wish I'd known

Just as many times as people stare at me like I sprouted a kiwi fruit from my left ear when I inform them I'm a writer, I meet people who are impressed- who wistfully say, I always wanted to write a book. I have this great idea. . . and look at me as if I'd walked to the moon.

I understand this envy-tinged awe because I used to be this way. As a child I wrote with abandon, before bedtime, when I came home from school, during math class, ideas came to me like raindrops in a storm- but as I got older I grew increasingly nervous about my abilities. I began reading books on 'how to write' and taking writing workshops, and attending book readings to ask the author for advice. I spent a good solid five years looking up advice on how to write, and now, I realize that those were five years wasted- because the only true advice that counts for anything when it comes to how to write is to:

Just write

It sounds so obvious- but the problem is that for someone who wants to write but doesn't- the biggest challenge is sitting down and getting started. You think, I can't just write? Whenever I sit down to write what I write looks like gibberish a two year old penned! And then click on yet another writing blog, or pick up another book and read about. . . writing.

The truth is, you can't read about painting and sketch like Van Gogh, you can't read about basketball and dunk like Kobe, you must do it again and again. You must practice. You think what you've written is jibberish? Write it down anyways. The idea of a 80,000 word novel making you want to hide under your bed? Write a chapter. A page. A sentence. Will your initial foray into writing be bad? Maybe. Probably. But I doubt Lebron got each ball in the hoop when he first began, or that Picasso's first drawing was worthy of a million dollar purchase-price- it takes time. According to Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours to achieve genius level in your particular field- the only way to get those hours- is to put it the blood, sweat, and tears, and just write.

That's the part I failed to realize. I thought writing was sexy and elusive- that writers sat down at their desks, took a sip of red wine sighed and began penning away the next Booker Prize winner- but writing is four parts drudgery and two parts creative hypnotic bliss. Writing is hard- some days its boring- some days the words don't fit right, but you have to keep on going.

What I'm sharing may seem obvious, but it is advice I wish I had encountered before I spent my money, and worse still five years of my life reading up on how to be a writer. There is benefit in reading writing blogs and writing books and taking writing courses, but the actual writing- that's up to you to do. Write and rewrite and then write again- and you will succeed with your goal. There is simply no other way. 

What advice helped you sit down at your desk and begin the process of writing? If you haven't done so yet, what are you waiting for?

Image source here


  1. Excellent advice. It takes time and it takes the guts to keep going when you know you're not producing quality work.

  2. Thanks for your comment Angela, and yes, the thing I failed to realize it I had to produce the quality I had in me at the time and it was only by doing it that I could hope to improve it.

  3. 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.' - Lao-tzu

    But to take that first step & then to keep walking every day - ah, there's the challenge.

    Great reminder- thanks!

  4. Amen Baraka, good friends who encourage and support help in the step-taking though :)

  5. I don't remember a single piece of advice that made me write, I just did. But I do remember sharing a story with my mother and she said, "Nancy, you should try to publish this, it's wonderful." That opened me up to the possibility that I could become a published author.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

  6. Aisha, this is spot-on advice. It reminds me of a conversation I had with another writer about her book. She wanted to start it years ago and didn't. But the delay has helped (in a way) because it's allowed her to gain life experience. And that experience will make her writing more real. So...I know good things can come out of writers' lost time. We just have to stay focused now. Great post. :)

  7. I know this is the best advice.. I've been told not to bother by another writer.. she hadn't seen my writing but said it was too hard a game to get into. I believe your advice is better. If you want to write then just write and if you get published then that is a bonus.
    My problem is motivation.. I need someone behind me.. pushing me.. I am blogging my journey here as I start a novel writing course 'Carole's Writing Blog' Please follow me there if you are an aspiring novelist and are struggling with your first masterpiece.

  8. N.R. Thanks for the comment, and for sharing what helped you- yes you are an example of making it :)

    Leslie, true life experience counts for more than I realized with writing- but yeah its easy to get side tracked waiting for the "perfect moment" when there is none to get started :)

    Joesobstory, it is a hard game to get into- very hard- but if youre writing for yourself- because you care about it and it means something to you- you should do it! Good luck with your first novel!

  9. Good advice, thank-you for sharing. I always think that I'd like to improve my writing but to do so, I must actually commit to writing more regularly.

  10. Thanks for your comment ify- yes- when it comes to improving ones writing there's no way out but through- and goign through it when there's no other reason but your own motivation can sometimes be harder than one realizes. Good luck to you- write amazing as it stands :)

  11. I want to write. I try to write. I make myself sit down sometimes but I feel this strong tussle in my thoughs. In most cases, I find it hard to verbalize them or perhaps I want to sound elegant and what comes out is not so. Dont know!
    Is it lack of vocabulary?

  12. A, its so totally and completely normal- and nothing ever comes out elegant- at least for me- on the first go! Sit down- write it out- then go back to it 48 hours later- and revise it, edit it- and see what you think?

  13. Aisha, this is wonderful advice. I wish that I had started focusing on actually writing - rather than dreaming about writing - years ago. This said, now that I likely have something big happening in December, I've committed myself to working on my current project at least once a day, even if it is for only thirty minutes at a time. I haven't been successful at meeting my goal every day, but I have most days. Right now, that is pretty good for me!

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed your post Aisha. I love writing and I just write. I don't know where I'm headed but I just write. Who knows if anyone else will like it however I'll still just write.

    It's a magical thing that if we write from our heart without concern about how or why we do it except for love of pouring our thoughts and ideas on the page we can get addicted to it. Then we can think about setting our sites on forming a work of art because we've had so much enjoyable practice. :~)

  15. spot on advice! which actually applies to anything really -nothing can be perfected without putting in those hours DOING it first.

    i've been recently devouring the web for writing advice as well, and 'just write' is actually something that i've found in most articles and websites, as well as to write regularly, everyday for that matter -i'm surprised you didn't come across this in your extended five year search!

  16. Raising, awesome!! If you want a beta reader- I'll be happy to take a look :)

    Catherine, thanks! you are exactly right- I thought this- that I could get addicted to it just by trying it out- but its a dedication and commitment- as much as writing is part of my life blood it requires mindful practice!

    Md, you are probably right- I wouldn't be surprised if this advice is now prolific on the itnernet- my catch, those five years, internet was not what it is now- it was the day of of america online and pay per minute- lol- so surprisingly, though I did get advice on craft and dedication, etc etc etc etc I never was told, you simply have to write in order to well, write!

  17. Idon't think that when people grow up, they will become morebroad-minded and can accept everything. Conversely, I think it's aselecting process, knowing what's the most important and what's theleast. And then be a simple man.


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