Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A spot of writerly advice...


I met a young writer at the weekend and we had a fab chat about writing, books and publishing. I always love meeting other writers and hearing about their stories and experiences, so it was great to spend some time nattering and sharing bits of writing life with another scribe. But it made me think about the writing advice I wish I'd had when I was his age...


Me. V-E-E-E-E-RY young and before I discovered eyeliner...

I started writing stories as soon as I could string a sentence together on paper, but it was around my teens and early twenties (from GCSEs to A Levels and on through my degree at university) that I started to approach writing with any level of seriousness. There was one story in particular that I kept returning to, and I think I probably wrote around 30,000 words in total over a period of about three years. I never shared it with anyone - just spent hours typing on the little travel typewriter I had received as a Christmas present when I was fourteen. It was the first time I had found myself lost in a world of my own creation, with characters as real in my mind as any of my friends in real life. But after a couple of years, I discarded it - because I thought it had no value and was merely evidence of a 'daft hobby'. I wish someone had given me advice at the point when I decided writing wasn't something I could legitimately do.

So, what writing advice would I give to my teenage writer self?

1. It's OK to call yourself a writer.
You don't have to be published, sell a million books or win awards to be able to refer to yourself as a writer. If you write, you're a writer. Full stop. Get this into your head now and you stand a good chance of being able to overcome a lot of hang-ups and wasted hours spent agonising over this question. You are a writer. So get on with it!

2. Your words (and worlds) are important.
Even if only to yourself. In fact, most importantly to yourself. Because if you don't write things that entertain you, how on earth do you expect to entertain other people? And even if nobody else ever gets to read what you've written, it should still have the power to make tingles race up and down your spine and that swell of joy to rise within you that steals your breath and makes you feel like you could explode into a million tiny stars right then and there. At the end of the day, that feeling is what every writer lives for (and royalties, of course. But mainly for the thrill...)

3. Write like you've made it already.
Don't be apologetic. Be ready to learn about yourself, your writing and how to move forward - but at the core of it all keep a confidence that you can do this. Even if you later go back and discard what you've written, write with confidence. Stand by your characters, defend your story and champion your plot - no matter how many sneaky, slimy or downright nasty doubts stand in your way. You know what makes a good story. Work hard to realise it on the page and be unshakeable in your resolve to see it through.

4. Ignore the Prophets of Doom...
You know them. The ones who say how hard it is to get published. The nay-sayers, the doom merchants, the people who would much rather jump on your dreams than pursue any of their own. They'll quote the statistics of how many books end up on publishers' slush piles, recount tales of failed writers and convince you that you haven't a hope in the face of such odds. Ignore them. Odds were made to be defied - and they can only tell you what has happened, not what can happen. Be like Emily Dickinson: dwell in possibility. Every year, new writers appear on the world's bookshelves. Nowhere is it written that you won't be one of them. So don't even think about giving up - not now, not ever!

5. Read everything.
Writing is a constant education. You learn from your own experience of actually doing it, but also from the example of others. Don't limit your experience to one genre. Any writing of any kind can teach you something about your own. It could be a story in a newspaper, an email, a tweet, a blog post, a Booker Prize-winning novel, a children's story, a romance or a thriller... Every writer works to find their own way of recreating on paper what is buzzing about between their ears, and you can benefit from their experience by reading what they have written - and how they've written it. When you're not writing, be reading.

And finally...

6. Get ready for the ride of your life...
Writing is a wild, crazy, frustrating, exhilarating, mind-boggling, breath-stealing adventure of epic proportions. If you take the chance to ride it, your life will change irrevocably, regardless of whether you are published or not. It will change because the way in which you see your world will change. Anonymous customers in a coffee shop will become secret agents, murderers, wizards and star-crossed lovers; people around you will unwittingly light the touch-paper of myriad ideas and send them sparkling and fizzing in your mind; and a hundred thousand stories will walk past you in the street every day. Bus queues will become audition candidates, dinner parties will become cast lists, overhead scraps of conversation will be woven into screenplays...

Of course, you can stop right now. You can stop writing at any time. But can you imagine your life without the characters, stories, plots and worlds waiting for you in your mind?

You were created to write. So do it!

9 comments:

Will @ Bright.Bazaar said...

Thanks for the kick of positivity, Miranda! Just what I needed! Great advice.

Riley said...

Was lovely meeting you! Thank you so much :)

Alison said...

I love "Write like you've already made it."

Wish I'd had this advice when I was starting out - it's taken about 8 years to work out for myself that if I sound/act/(most importantly)write vaguely embarressed and apologetic for being a writer, I'm never going to come across like I really am one!

Martha said...

Love this post (and the website design!) :)

SP Sipal said...

Just discovered your blog. I agree. I wish I'd received this advise starting out! And I love your Turkish cover. That seems to be a booming market now. My husband is Turkish and we lived there several years.

erica and christy said...

It's funny. Calling myself a writer sounds so simple, yet it's one of the hardest things to do! Great motivational post! Thanks! I'm off to write! christy

Rosalind Adam said...

I can so relate to the first of your points. It took me years to be able to say 'I am a writer.' and unfortunately the reaction I got that first time was every bit as uncomfortable as I'd feared. The person was a librarian and his response was, 'Oh really! I don't recognise your name from my shelves. Do you write under another name?'

Of course the other comment that has me cringing is, 'Why do you want to write children's stuff? Why don't you try writing a proper novel?' Grrr!

http://rosalindadam.blogspot.com/

Suzi said...

Very sound and inspiring advice. Thanks!

Dolly said...

Fantastic post :-) I wish I had known some of this when I started out too, though it's never too late to get on the optimism board!!

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