http://www.aliventures.com/8-writing-secrets/ A few years ago, I’d look at published writers and think that they were
somehow different from me. After all, their books were gripping and
fluent – unlike my stumbling attempts at first drafts. Their blogs had hundreds
or thousands of readers.
They were real writers. And, deep down, I was afraid that I could
never really become one of them.
But as I’ve taken more and more steps into the writing world, I’ve realised
that my perception just doesn’t match up to the reality. Writers – at
all levels – have just the same struggles as you and me.
I’m going to go through eight secrets. Eight things which all
writers know – but which you might never hear them admit.
Secret #1: Writing is Hard
Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until
drops of blood form on your forehead. (Gene Fowler)
There’s a myth – not just in the writing world – that if you’re good
at something, it’ll be easy. And established writers, me included, do
have writing sessions where the words flow smoothly.
The truth is, though, that writing is hard. Some
types of writing are tougher than others – I’ve written before about Why Fiction is So Hard to
Write. But almost any type of writing will cause some sort of resistance –
getting started is never easy. And very few writers, however experienced, can
turn out a great draft first time.
Use It: Getting started is nearly always tough. There’s
nothing wrong with you if you find it hard to sit down and write. But like
exercise, once you get going, it gets easier.
Secret #2: We All Struggle With Procrastination
There’s only one person who needs a glass of water oftener than a small child
tucked in for the night, and that’s a writer sitting down to write. (Mignon
McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook)
I’ve seen a few writers talk about this, often in a
jokey way: we procrastinate. This isn’t just the case for
beginners. Writing Magazine columnist Jane Wenham-Jones, for instance,
writes quite openly about her struggles to just get on with writing. (And she’s
had several novels and non-fiction books published – plus many short stories and
Procrastination can come in a couple of different forms:
- You do the dishes, weed the garden, tidy your desk, sharpen your pencils …
anything but sit down and put words on a page.
- You write, regularly – perhaps blog posts or journal entries – but
you never get round to starting that novel or memoir or other big,
This form is, I think, fairly harmless; it’s easy to spot yourself doing it,
and there are easy tricks for “just getting on with it”. The second type is more
insidious – it’s easy to kid yourself that you’re just not ready to tackle
something longer or more complex, even when you’ve been putting off that project
Use It: Take a good hard look at your own writing. Are you
procrastinating on something? What would it take for you to get moving on it?
Secret #3: We Put Ourselves Into Our Work
Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against
his will. (Goethe)
Anything and everything you write says something about you as a person,
whether you want it to or not. Even your choice of what to write about –
the decision that something is worth putting down in words – is
It doesn’t end there. Writers (particularly good ones) deliberately draw on
their own lives. If you know enough about a novelist, you can almost always spot
some autobiographical element in their work. If you knew someone closely enough,
you’d see that they pour in their childhood memories (the good and the bad),
life experiences, hurts and dreams.
Use It: Dig incidences out of your past – they can be tiny
things, so long as they have emotional power. Put them into your writing.
There’s a truth in these which can bring your work to life.
Secret #4: First Drafts are Always Crap
The only way I can get anything written at all is to
write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft,
where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing
that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. (Anne Lamott,
Bird by Bird – you can read an extract from this
Short, straightforward pieces may come out
just-about-right the first time round. Most authors, though, will have first
drafts which look vastly different from the finished product. I
remember reading J.K. Rowling’s description of how she cut a whole
character, plus a bunch of associated scenes, from one of the Harry Potter
As a reader, you only get to see the finished product. You
don’t have access to the fumbling, faltering first draft, which every author has
to go through in order to get to the polished finished piece. But those drafts
exist – buried or even burnt, their clumsy sentences and over-indulgent passages
concealed from the world.
Use It: Don’t ever worry if a first
draft doesn’t seem very good – especially if you’re writing fiction. If you can,
take a look at a published author’s first draft and compare it with the finished
work. Here’s an example, bravely posted by Diane Chamberlain: Finished!
(And a First and Fifth Draft Comparison)
Secret #5: Each Piece Exists in a State of Flux – and it’s Never
Art is never finished, only abandoned. (Leonardo da Vinci)
When you read a book or article or blog post, it feels fixed. You
can’t really imagine it being any other way.
That’s not any writer’s experience of their work, though. Chances are, the
piece began as a patchwork of ideas. Whole chunks – chapters, scenes, paragraphs
– will have been moved around, cut, added, expanded. There’ll have been plenty
of times when the writer had a coin-toss decision between taking one direction
Because of this, the work never feels finished to its own
author: there’s always the potential for some more tweaking. At some
point, though, every writer has to let their work go.
Use It: Aim for completion, rather than perfection.
You’re never going to feel like a piece of writing is quite as finished as it
could be. Send it out into the world – it will only truly be complete once it
Secret #6: We Do it Because We’re Obsessed
An incurable itch for scribbling takes possession of many, and grows
inveterate in their insane breasts. (Juvenal, Satires, around 100
Normal people aren’t writers. Most people (much to my
horror) dislike writing. They might only read one or two books every
year. They certainly don’t see any reason to put their thoughts down in writing,
whether that’s as a blog, a journal or a story.
If you’re writing, you’ve got a certain obsession. Some writers talk about
their need to write – and even believe that they couldn’t live without
it. I certainly find it very hard to imagine a life where I didn’t write at
Use It: Accept that you’re a bit weird – and revel in it!
Make time for your writing – sure, the rest of the world might not understand,
but they’re not writers.
Secret #7: Money does matter
Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote except for money. (Samuel
While many writers carry on because they’re a bit obsessed, there are very
few who don’t have some ideas about making money from it. After all, if
you can make a living from your writing, you get to spend your work day with
words – not just your evenings and weekends.
Writers don’t necessarily love or even agree with everything they write. I’ve
written on topics like Australian college football, not because I had any
particular interest in it, but because I was being paid.
There’s no shame in making money from creative work –
whatever the beret-wearing, garrett-dwelling types would have you believe.
Use It: If you want to make money as a writer, start paying
attention to the market. Some sorts of writing (e.g. web copy, specialised
non-fiction) are a lot more lucrative than other types (e.g. poetry). Don’t be
afraid to try something new: you might enjoy it more than you think, and it
might be the first step to turning your writing into an actual career.
Secret #8: We All Struggle With Self-Doubt
This is what I’ve been thinking lately: I’m getting
worse. My writing just isn’t as good as it used to be. With every new story I
write I believe I’ve lost something—the spark, the raw energy, the ability to
see the scene, to tell the truth, to imagine. I look at my stories and feel like
they could be so much better. (Jessie Morrison, MFA
Confidential blog for Writer’s Digest)
You’ll come across the occasional supremely confident writer. In my
experience, those people tend not to be very successful. Good writers
are often riddled with self-doubt – and as they get better and better, they’re
also more and more able to spot the flaws in their own work.
Self-doubt can be very destructive, and can cripple your ability to write.
It’s something to stand firm against – but it’s important to remember that
you’re not the only writer who goes through it. There’s nothing wrong with you
if you have a little voice in your head saying “Who’d want to read THAT?”
Use It: Next time you doubt yourself, keep going anyway. Put
doubts about your work aside when you’re drafting – save them for when you need