by Juliet Blackwell
Recently I’ve had several people ask me what they should read in order to learn to write.
I’m going to say something close to blasphemy.
The truth is, I don’t believe in reading books about writing. Reading is not writing.
Writing is writing. In fact, most successful authors I know “learned” to write by writing their first book, or their first several tomes.
So if you want to write, then write. How? Learn to let go, and embrace.
Let go of the results of that first book. Just finish it: prove to yourself that you can write 80k words of narrative. It doesn’t have to be poetry; it just has to be DONE.
Let go of “worthy”: no writing out there is “worthy” in everyone’s estimation, and yet it’s all worthy. Let go of the concept --it's not useful.
Embrace the “vomit draft”: I hate the graphic nature of that term, but it’s the only word that truly encapsulates the feel of that first, fast draft. Some people call it the sh*t draft, but to me it’s more like pulling things up, painfully, and spewing them out on the page. Again, I apologize for the imagery, but the process of writing –like most art-- isn’t pretty. Embrace the messiness, let go of the worthy, and get it on the page!
Embrace dogged determination: just DO it (insert Nike swish here). If it’s twenty minutes a day, make those minutes count. If you’ve got all day, go for it. Don’t think about it, just do it.
Let go/ignore frenemies. Stick your fingers in your ears and hum. Practice the friendly, “No, sorry, I have to write.” (this gets easier with practice!) Before you’re officially published it’s hard to convince people (and yourself) that you’re actually doing something important, so be clear on this for yourself before sharing with others: This is my work. It is worthy. No one else can tell my story.
Let go the monkey mind. The monkey mind jumps all over the place. Force yourself to enter your own story and ignore the laundry, the phone, the internet, the sunny day outside your window. Want to write? You have to give up something. Maybe many somethings. It’s a sacrifice. But as those of us who write know, it’s well worth it.
Try NaNoWriMo – 2k words (8-10 pages) a day is nothing for a lot of us working authors, but if you’ve never written a book it can feel daunting (as it can if you have, for example, a full time job and children and a spouse and and and…) NaNoWriMo can help you get past that hump: you have to write, whether it’s good or not, whether it’s worthy or not. (At 2k a day, you have a 60k rough draft in one month. That leaves you 11 months to tinker on it, correct plot problems, craft language, reach for the magic…and then you’ve written a clean, lovely manuscript in one year!)
Embrace other creative people: Throw yourself into the creative world. Find a writing group such as Sisters in Crime, or Romance Writers of America, or NaNoWriMo, or a local group. Find a fellow author who will sit with you in a café and write for hours while ignoring the crowd, and each other.
Embrace yourself as an artist: an artist doesn’t do what other people do. Perhaps that means you have no idea who won American Idol, or the World Series, or the Oscars. Perhaps that means you had to skip the beach trip or that last delicious hour of sleep. Perhaps it means you don’t shower for days and you live with the voices in your head…it’s all good, you’re a quirky *artist*!!!
And finally…if any of the above is helpful, embrace it…if it doesn’t apply to you, let it go. We all have different ways of getting our stories written, so feel free to call bullsh*t on me!