How not to write

When our writing group, Renegade Writers, decided to start blogging, the original idea was that everyone would have something wonderfully clever to say. When my turn came up,  I hit a bit of a wall. Unlike many of the others in the group, I’m not a published author. I don’t have a pile of completed stories to send out to publishers and competitions, or a folder filled with rejection letters. I haven’t even figured out what genre I’m writing, yet. In fact, the only thing I rank as an expert in is what not to do.  So, here it is, the advice you never asked for.

One: put writing at the very bottom of your ‘to do’ list. Leave it until you have absolutely
nothing else to do. Instead of writing you might do a bit of research, compose some tweets, tackle some editing, or have a bit of a think. If you keep the idea of writing as a wistful daydream rather than a pesky reality, you’ll never fail at it.

Two: re­-draft everything you write. After churning out 40k of trash, don’t go back through it with your red pen and make it better, just start again. From scratch. (With the 40k of trash sitting next to you so you can peek at it, feel like a loser, and go do something else instead).

Three: leave your latest idea for a novel until you’re a good enough writer to do it justice. While you’re waiting for this spontaneous change in your brain chemistry to occur, sit around bemoaning the fact you never have any good ideas; or obsessing over the brilliant idea and how unfair it is you’re such a hack.

Four: since your last story idea was a bit on the long side, you are obviously a novelist, so
there’s no point in trying to write anything else.  If it’s not a novel, no one will read it anyway (Raymond Carver? Never heard of him).

Five: experiment with grammar. It’s a bourgeois concept, anyway.

Six: tell no one that you write. This is the best way to avoid difficult questions, although it will make water-­cooler conversation a bit ‘awkward’,

‘What cha get up to this weekend’?

You can always ‘fess up about what you’ve been doing with your time when you’ve finished your Breath­ Taking Work of Subtle Beauty (having undergone that spontaneous change in brain chemistry I mentioned earlier).

Seven: ignore all advice. You know best, you’re the genius here, damn it!

Eight: give up. Seriously, just stop right there. That tutor on a certain writing course, who told you to go and do something else instead, is an expert­­- he’s been published, after all.

Remember, publishing deal= godlike status.

But anyway, it turns out I do have one piece of helpful advice in my arsenal, and gaining it required Buddha­-like calm, Ninja­-stealth and the dedication of a Jedi knight­­ so pay attention at the back.

Three years ago, I was being intravenously fed with drugs that made me both bald and pukey. And, because injury ain’t no fun without a good insult, these drugs also affected my writing. The words were there on the page, and so must have vaguely resembled the ideas in my head, but they were alien, wrong and about as meaningful as a helping of word­-salad. Honestly, it was as if some strange creature had kept into my head and was controlling my pen hand.

It was that moment in a super­ heroines life when she realises she has squandered her super power, and this super ­heroine had never been more terrified in all her lycra­rocking, crime­fighting, death-defying days.

If I couldn’t write anything, what did that make me?

I lay there (in my slanket) and I contemplated a story-­free life. I would go to spa days and have my nails shelaq’d. I would spend hours wandering around Ikea, and worry what the car I drove said about me.

I would be just like everybody else.

Well, the kryptonite has (mostly) worn off now, and I’m back to having stories in my head, rather than fluffy white light and the sounds of the sea. I’m fairly relieved, and trying to make up for lost time.

So, at least one useful thing has come out of all this meandering. If you write, maybe you can be writer. But nothing lasts forever, so do it while you can.

(Originally published July 2014)

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