Google “Advice on Writing”. Go on. The result you will receive is about 258 million results in 0.32 seconds—that’s quick. That tells me there are millions of people giving advice on writing to the millions who wish to write and are searching for the definitive answer.
There are a thousand books on it too, and do not forget the workshops—oh and the writing groups. My lovely librarian recently walked me over to a poster on the library wall. She knows I write. I tell everyone I am a writer—I enjoy the funny looks I get.
So she pointed at the poster and said, ‘Would you like to come to this? It’s a workshop on writing. Only five dollars.’ We both peered at the poster. There was another poster alongside it, on journaling for children, ten to fourteen years.
‘The journaling might be better, I think—for the children.’ I wanted to say, I don’t do workshops but I thought that sounded a little arrogant. Instead, I said, ‘I’ll check my diary.’
Fade out from this scene, and then fade in on Twitter this morning. There was a tweet promoting a blog post about ten mistakes made by writers. I think it was ten. You could probably write one hundred if you set your mind to it.
It was a reasonable blog post, so I retweeted it, but added—without thinking—"The true Secret to writing well...Read. Write. Repeat."
And there you have it, whether you like that advice or not. There is The Big Secret to writing well. You must read and read and read and then, in between that, you must write and write and write.
Did I know this little gem two years ago? No way. When I decided I was going to take writing seriously and set out on my wobbly page-a-day goal, I thought, ‘Lets see how far I get before someone tells me I’m wasting my time.’ I didn’t know I needed to be toting up words like I was working out at a gym.
THE BIG REVEAL
Fade out from Twitter and fade into a little coffee get together at one of those gorgeous book stores with its own groovy little café nestled amongst the merchandise. It’s a Sunday morning and there at a table is me, a Perth writing tutor and three other enthusiatic writers in the making.
It was a free talk on ‘How to get published.’ I thought, it might be a great way to meet people. I’d actually won a writing competition on the Tutor’s website, so along I went in support and for the fun of it.
An hour in, one of my fellow attendees commented, ‘I’m not very good.’
To which I offered, ‘Just keep writing. Everyone goes through it—and read a lot. You will get better. It’s inevitable.’
Then I realised, when she looked at me like I had just said, 'Strip naked, spin around 3 times and yell hallelujah,' that the ladies were waiting for the Big Secret reveal. The problem is, it doesn't come at workshops. I’m not putting down workshops. I always say, ‘whatever works for you. Just make sure it is working for you.’
There is a point when you simply realise you are on a path, and where you are is where you are, until you write some more. Writing experts will give you the answer for which you are looking. But they won’t give you the answer you really need.
DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER
I am not saying you should not study the mechanics of writing. I have done that and attended creative writing workshops decades ago. It is important to know the basics, so that when your story is not working you have an idea where you went wrong. If you are new to writing, do go and enrol in a creative writing course. They are great fun. You do learn important things and meet people with whom you can share your passion. But eventually you don’t need them.
The three workshops I have attended in the past two years did teach me one thing: that I did not need to go to them anymore. My husband knew that from the beginning. Every time I would wave an ad at him and say, ‘This looks interesting. Do you think I should go?’ He would say, ‘But you know what you need to do. Sit down and write. That workshop is time you could be writing.’
It took me a year to believe him and then the workshops cured me. I kept meeting people at them who told me that if they didn’t go to a workshop or attend a writing group they wouldn’t write. They were not there to learn. They were there seeking inspiration and paying dearly for it—not just with money but in precious time.
I even met a woman, who had left her job as a journalist to finish her book. She had not finished it yet. ‘How long ago did you leave your job?’ I said, thinking a year.’
‘Five years,’ she said. ‘I’m stuck on a bit in the book and I come to these things to gain inspiration.’
‘Why don’t you give that one up and start a new book?’ I said. ‘Even write some short stories, mix it up, and keep moving. I won some competitions with my short stories. They pay you money.’ I am very enthusiastic in my encouragement and sharing of The Big Secret.
Her tone changed then. ‘I don’t care about money for short stories. I’m a serious writer.’
I wanted to say, ‘I don’t care about the money either. It just gives you a deadline and keeps you writing, keeps your mind fresh.’ But she had already sidled away, pretending she knew someone on the other side of the room. Maybe that person was also a stuck-serious-writer and they could commiserate together.
Raymond Bradbury said that ‘to become a good writer, write a short story a week for ten years. At the end of that, you will be good.’ I really wanted to yell that out to her, along with, ‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’
Now just for the record, in case you think as we near the end of this post that I will have any other ground-breaking revelations for you, I repeat:
To become a good writer and build a road to Great Writerdom-that’s not a word by the way but it sounds good—you must Read, Write and Repeat.
Stephen King says it. Stephanie Meyers says it. J.K. Rowlings says it. And Raymond Bradbury said it. It is the worst kept secret in the literary world. But nobody listens. Inexperienced writers keep thinking there must be an easier way; a special wand at the workshops to transform you from blah to yeeha.
Sorry no cigar there. It’s not in the “How to” books either. So close them up now. Actually it is, you will find it in every “How to” book hidden amongst all the other stuff that you usually forget.
IT’S A HARD LESSON
I have learnt this truth over these two years. It is a hard lesson, and many will fall by the wayside. There are thousands of writer’s souls strewn along the path to greatness. The first two to three hundred thousand words will almost kill you. That is a fact.
Along the way, you will cry—real tears of discouragement. You will hang your head in shame as you read back the pulp you've produced. Fear will grip you when you take more than a few days break from your discipline—when you return to the keyboard, will the muse alight upon your shoulder or will your mind be barren and desolate? Will you ever write anything others will want to read? These are the arrows and rocks hurled at you—by your non-supportive inner critic—for daring to believe you can write. Especially in the beginning when you really cannot write a damn.
But when you hear that disparaging voice, when you feel disheartened, I want you to repeat these words. ‘I will conquer. I will succeed because I know The Big Secret. I do not need anyone’s permission. I do not need anyone else’s help. I have The Big Secret to guide me.
Now, with great conviction, like you really believe it—because deep down you know its true—repeat after me:
I will Read. I will Write. I will Repeat. If you have enjoyed this musing, do hop over and register for my very random newsletter. Straightaway you will receive two fantastic short stories FREE. You'll also be the first to know when I have exciting news to share like free books (international) and film ticket giveaways (Australia). Hop over here: http://eepurl.com/3P-Wz
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