I’ve lost count of the number of websites/blogs/books/articles instructing aspiring writers on how to learn their craft and be better at it.
I suspect it’s easier to spend your time reading all this advice and solemnly nodding your head in agreement than it is to actually do the hard yards in front of your computer (or on paper, if you prefer).
It’s not so exciting calling yourself a writer when it’s just you, your jumbled, peripatetic thoughts and a blank screen or notebook.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these resources are enormously valuable – and sometimes surprisingly beautiful to read, like Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, which I recently downloaded to my Kindle (and that’s a whole other post, right there…). They have their place. But the moment we start thinking that reading How to Write books constitutes being “a writer” or demonstrates that we’re serious about our craft, we’re in trouble.
I myself have fallen into the trap of spending a few earnest hours organising my office, carefully inscribing pithy quotes about writing onto Post-It notes to adorn my computer, reserving a couple of How to Write books at the library then sitting back and congratulating myself on a morning well spent.
It hasn’t got me any closer to finishing my novella, though. And you know what? It has left me feeling empty and vaguely depressed, like I’ve just eaten a whole heap of fast food and then realised I could (and should) have gone for the home cooked meal.
There’s another trap that I suspect many writers fall into (me included). It’s reading.
Yep, you read that right.
Now don’t get me wrong: reading is a vital activity for any writer. We should read all genres, all styles, all subjects. We should read books we wouldn’t normally look twice at. We should pick books up at random and dive in. But it can be a trap in papery disguise. There comes a point when reading becomes another means of escape to Easy Island. Ah, the release of reaching for the bedside table novel and losing myself for an hour instead of slogging through the quagmire that is writer’s block. The liberation of rising from my office chair, grabbing my keys and floating down the road to the book shop to give myself over to browsing abandon. And so my novella lies untouched for another day.
As writers it is vital that we find and establish our own particular flavour, or brand, or style; whatever you want to call it. You know what I mean – our own, fingerprinted way of turning a phrase, embellishing a scene, gently teasing out the lyricism of our lines until they start to sing.
We have to find our own voice. And that is hard-won. Only through actual writing can we do that.
Anyway, I digress. I had better deliver on the promise of this post’s title.
So here are my Three Vital Tips, in no particular order:
2. Keep writing
3. Write even more
Not sexy. Not easy. Not a fast fix.
But it works.