Four Thoughts on Writing

So you want advice about writing?

What do you do? Get a self-help book? A how to guide to being a better writer? There are tons of those out there. The best, I think, is Stephen King’s On Writing, not because he tells you how to write, but because it’s kind of autobiographical and in that bit of life we are told about, we also see how to write. It’s a very unique way of teaching or advising. There are plenty of other books out there, but none I really care to mention here.

You can ask other writers their thoughts. Some of them will give you good advice, while others will completely steer you the wrong way. You will get don’t do this, but do this. Or you have to do it this way and don’t do it that way. That way is always wrong. This way is always right. You should never write in this perspective or in this tense. Always have lots of action. Don’t use too many descriptors, but make sure and give enough that the reader can somewhat picture it. My favorite is ‘show, don’t tell,’ but so many people can’t explain what that means. Ask for examples and often you don’t get them.

[Side Note: there are some very good authors out there who can give you examples of what they are explaining. Those people ‘get it.’ End Side Note]

There are so many different things that you should or should not do, depending on who you talk to.

If you are a writer, feel free to disagree with me. It won’t bother me at all, unless you are rude and disrespectful.

For anyone out there who may care (and there are about twelve of you that I know of…I think), I do have some advice for you. No, this isn’t a self-help kind of thing. This isn’t even a technical kind of thing. You won’t see me telling you to be grammatically correct or to condense your sentences or whatever. This stuff…this stuff is mental. As Yogi Berra once said about baseball: “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.” Well, I think it’s the same with writing.

Are you ready?

Okay. Here we go:

Be yourself.

Oh. Whoa. Wait. What?

Be yourself.

Be who you are when you write. Don’t try to be Stephen King or James Patterson or William Faulkner or Edgar Allen Poe or anyone else. By yourself. Write the way you are. Write what you want to write. Why do I say that? Because if you try to be someone else, you might miss out on what you can actually do if you were just yourself. You might miss out on finding your own voice.

I tried to write like others. I experimented with a lot of different voices, a lot of different styles. I tried going all action and not so much descriptions. I tried using a ton of dialogue and then as little dialogue as possible. I tried in the first, second and third points of view. I tried in past and present tense (and even something I played with trying to create a future tense).

Guess what? Until I stopped trying to be everyone else, I couldn’t find my voice, my style, the way I wanted to write. I was kind of all over the place and nothing really fit.

So, first and foremost, be yourself.

Next: Read. Don’t just read the writers you like. Read other writers that don’t fall within your normal reading tastes. While you read, make mental notes on styles and how the story develops. If you want to keep a notepad handy so you can jot down something that strikes a chord with you, then do so. You don’t have to analyze the story, but when you’re done, think about what you liked and didn’t like about it. Read—it may be the most important thing you can do for your writing.

Third, and this is a big one: You need to develop thick skin. By thick skin I mean you need to have skin as thick as an elephant. If you get your feelings hurt easily, this is not the business for you. This is a tough gig, folks. There are those who will help you—and they are good people who will do what they can for you. Then there are those who would just as soon break you down to the point that you would give up. Editors and publishers are tough and some of them aren’t very nice when they reject you. The publishing world is difficult and sometimes publishers screw over the writers. If you carry your feelings on your sleeves then you will get eaten up and spat out.

And, for the most part, readers are totally cool. But sometimes you get one that just doesn’t like your work and they attack the story and you, personally. If you can’t handle that with a level head, then putting your work out there may not be the best idea for you.

Though there are many more things I can put on this list, I will stop with this last one. It’s important: Enjoy what you do. I’ve heard people say they suffer for their art. Really? Suffer? Not me. There is an old saying: Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life. It’s the same with writing. If you love it, it’s not work and you’ll never suffer for it.

Writing—telling stories—can bring so much enjoyment and personal fulfillment. For me, I get a sense of accomplishment that nothing else brings me. To quote another source, this time Twisted Sister: There’s a feeling that I get from nothin’ else and there ain’t nothing’ in the world that makes me go… Creating a world my characters live in, giving them situations to deal with, seeing how they resolve those situations, is such a rush. It’s better than any drug. Really. It is. Drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs. Write. It’s much better for you.

Let’s recap:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Read.
  3. Develop a thick skin.
  4. Enjoy writing.

If you will take notice, I didn’t tell you how to write. That’s not my place, and I don’t feel I am qualified to tell anyone how to write. And if I was qualified, I still don’t think I would tell anyone how to write. One of the parts of writing that can be so enjoyable—or any activity, for that matter—is practicing at it, learning what you need to do to get better and then learning how to get better. It’s those ‘Ah ha’ moments where the light turns on and you ‘get it’ that is so exhilarating and that makes writing fun.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.


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