Advice to those Contemplating Writing

ADVICE TO THOSE CONTEMPLATING WRITING

If you want to write – get on with it.

Sure there are ways to improve your chances of publication by reading about how to do it and getting advice on how to polish your work, but there is one sure way to NOT get published and that is having nothing to show an agent or a publisher.

 

So my main advice would be to write something every day if you can. If you can’t or don’t like writing like that, if you get a couple of days at the weekend when you are free to get into the mood – write more then.

I have read some bizarre, conflicting and plain stupid advice on websites and in books designed to ‘help’ budding writers. Sometimes they really are intended to help but the writer is just plain dumb, but often they appear to be there mainly to milk the poor tyro who doesn’t know where to go or thinks they don’t know how to start.

 

Take this, in a (successful) blog about how to write – recommended in a list of the ‘must follow blogs’ for would be writers.

Point one  ‘write for others’ – the point being apparently that if you are writing for yourself it is the literary equivalent of masturbation, fun but ultimately lonely and it won’t attract others.

However the key point made at the end of the list is that great writers write for themselves.

I think the point that the writer is trying to get over here, given that the last observation  was in a section called ‘Disregard all advice’, is that great (I would say all good) writing is not formulaic. You can learn to write material that will engage and probably even sell by following a basic formula but it will be competing with a lot of mediocre tosh out there, much of which is distributed for free these days.  The title of the last section is remarkably honest, given that the author is selling a book telling people how to get published.

Let me give you a piece of advice for free.

Presuming you can read and recognise good writing in your chosen language, stop worrying about the bits and pieces and write something. Then read one of the practical books or articles on how to get published – the practicalities of how to approach agents or publishers, or self publish online (not vanity publishing).

If you are worried about things like split infinitives… stop it! This idea comes from the late eighteenth century when people like Dr Johnson were codifying the language. The problem is that some of them took rules for Latin grammar and applied them to English (being Enlightenment scholars they tended to have a bit of a fixation about classical texts). The point being that you CAN’T split a Latin infinitive -it’s one word, whereas you can and often SHOULD split an English one … to boldly go on your way to writing something other than a text book.

Similar story with that most widely overused piece of writing advice for beginners, don’t use adverbs. Tosh. Utter tosh and drivel. Sure, don’t go mad with them but it would be a stultifyingly dull read without any modifiers of verbs. Would you read something with no adjectives? You will end up with a ‘Jack eats jam. Jack likes jam. Jam is made of sugar and fruit’ style of writing with this reductio ad boredom advice.

So go and read a few ‘how to’ books if you must – but only a few. Go to a local writers group for genuine helpful feedback. But remember don’t let the advice or the feedback become an end in themselves. Unless you like reading these books instead of the latest Dan Brown (remember how much money he’s made before you get too snotty!) and want a social life based around budding authors (neither necessarily a bad thing), write more than you study. You should be studying without noticing you are doing it most of the time – reading, listening to the spoken word and watching TV and Film.

In all that time you spend reading about plotting, rhythm, characterisation, punctuation, not using a preposition to end a sentence with, etc. you could have written a couple of novels, a handful of novellas or a collection of short stories.

So go write something. (But remember my advice to ignore advice doesn’t apply to my blog!)

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