In my last post I asked you what you thought were the most important things required for becoming a successful writer. I’m wondering what you decided. If I was asked this question, I think my answer would be (at least this week): Read as much as possible, keep writing, edit carefully, and learn how to engage a reader.
I would imagine (I might be wrong) that a number of people would place ‘be published’ near or at the top of the list. Most beginner writers that come to my classes yearn to be published and want to know all about publishing even before they have worked on improving their writing. How do you get published? How do you find an agent? My advice is, don’t set out wanting to be published. Set out wanting to be good. Good writing is much more likely to be published. Writing fiction is a competitive field and the better your writing, your technique and your story, the more chance of standing out among others. If only beginner writers asked themselves, ‘How can I become a good writer?” or “What do I need to do to be a better writer?” So, for now, just try to be good.
I remember when I first got published I thought it would change everything but every book, story, or poem, is different and brings fresh challenges and it feels as if you are starting all over again with each one, with the same worries about failing or not being good enough.
The last time I posted I mentioned that there were three ‘rules’ about writing that, in my opinion, are complete myths, or at least should not be taken too seriously.
1) You must write every day
There are some writers who feel guilty if they don’t write each day, or write a certain number of words each day. I have heard people say, “I got a few thousand words done before breakfast”. It’s not a competition. I would say write regularly but I don’t see any need to write every day or even to pressure yourself to reach a certain number of words. Some days the writing will flow and you will write more than usual, some days you will write less, some days you will write only in your head, letting ideas come together, and sometimes there will be a run of days when you don’t write at all. Sometimes the break is good. Write often but don’t beat yourself up if it’s not every day.
2) You have to spend swathes of time alone
There will be times that you need to get organised and get the words down and it is best that you are not distracted. This is often towards the end of a story or writing project when it is all coming together and you need to give it concentrated blocks of uninterrupted time. However, writers also need to spend time out, taking in experiences and interacting with people. They need time to watch and listen. Grist for the writing mill is collected out in the world and can then be put to good use in blocks of time alone.
3) You should write about what you know
When it comes to writing about what you know, of course it make sense to use what you know but don’t let it stop you writing about what you don’t know, what you can learn, imagine, invent or borrow.
I am uncomfortable with ‘should’ and ‘must’ and ‘have to’. I have been told so many times what I should and shouldn’t do and much of it has turned out not to have been right for me at all. I don’t know why I wasted energy worrying about it.
Expose all advice to the Butterfly Test (yes I did just make that up but there is a point to it). Sample. Decide what you want or need to take from it. Move on.
Listen to your gut feelings, regard ‘should’ and ‘must’ and ‘have to’ as potentially useful (suggestions, not rules), experiment with what interests you, guiltlessly (is that a word?) discard what you are uncomfortable with. Experiment. Explore. Find your own path.
(These butterflies are visitors to my garden, enjoying our lovely Scottish flowers)