How To Be A “Good Writer” (Based On Eighteen Years Of Trying)

“Do you ever feel like writing… is just too damn hard?

Sign up to my £3,000 a month subscription pack and I’ll send leaflets, great advice AND magical little elves that’ll do your work for you to your doorstep! Oh, and you’ll earn BILLIONS OF POUNDS! EVERY DAY! It’s easy!”

Yes, that’s bullshit. I was playing the role of a motivational speaker, to get you in the mood for this article: an advice piece for those of you who are struggling to write, who feel their wells of inspiration running dry and who, simply, do not believe they are a “good writer”.

I feel (she says, hesitantly) perhaps I can be something of an authority on this subject – self-doubt, lack of ability to commit and classic “writer’s block” having often been my creative bedfellows. But I’ve learned some ways to kick them out the bed – or, at least, stop them from wriggling so fervently next to you, ruining your ability to peacefully pursue your creative dreams. It’s a mixture of shifting perspectives and actionable tips, and the list is what’s working for me – and what I believe may work for you, too.

Without further ado…

Read all the time.

In my view, reading books is like training on a treadmill before embarking on a marathon. If you went straight to the marathon without the training, the marathon would be harder to complete. The relationship between writing and reading, for me, is the same. 

When I’ve been reading my writing flows naturally, water from a fountain’s spout. My mind is freshly inspired, ready to gabble after communicating with another text; wanting to speak now that it’s been spoken to (having been spoken to by the book). The two elements are in constant discourse. So write after you read. Read after you write. Sign up for the marathon, prepared. 

Write all the time.

Write something every single day. Even if you don’t think you want to – you do want to. Or rather, your inner-writer wants to.

Occasionally the point isn’t in the quality of what you produce, but the practice of producing it. Sitting down at a computer and being forced to write every day (I’m a content writer by trade), for hours a day, has helped me as a writer elsewhere immeasurably – chiefly for the reason that it’s forced me to goddamn do writing, and see pieces through, instead of flirting with the idea and binge-watching Frasier instead (not to say that there isn’t also space for that in your life, too, because there totally is). 

Writing might seem painful and taxing sometimes – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Commit to the habit of it. If writing is your passion, you’ll find joy in this pact (and joy in the fruits you’ll produce by proxy). Writing is a commitment the same as any other; commit to the gym and you get fit and healthy. Commit to learning an instrument and you become a better musician. Commit to being thrifty and you’ll save money. Et cetera et cetera et cetera

Write in every format that interests you.

Task yourself lots of different writing projects. Currently, I am working on a novel, this blog, workplace tasks and freelance for a couple of sites. Sometimes I dabble in poetry, and I’m also keeping a thought journal.

Having a breadth of writing projects to focus on means that I am never not in the mood for writing, for there is always something to do. Master this step, and the ability to write constantly will bloom more naturally. It will blossom into talent. 

Kick procrastination to the curb.

To truly commit to producing something good, you have to shirk everything that serves as a distraction. So whatever you have to do – do it. 

Whenever I work on my novel I always leave the house, usually ending up at a little French cafe that I live close by to. Several may assume this is to conform to some embarrassing ‘hipster’ image but honestly, it’s not. It’s to keep my brain alive.

When I’m at home, my mind goes to sleep. I become a relaxation automaton, completely incapable of stringing two sentences together (let alone a chapter or article. A grocery list is about the best I can muster). Home is my place to cook, sleep, read, cry over Binding of Isaac or practice intensive gymnastics*. And my mind is all too aware of this – so whenever I step through that little blue door, my mental cogs screech to a halt.

I flee.

I pack up my laptop and notebooks and go somewhere else. This effort alone kickstarts my brain back into aliveness; a signal to myself that I’m in business, committing to the task. This doesn’t mean I always have good days, obviously. But it does mean that I always work on my project – at least a little bit – which is more than I would’ve done had I stuck to my Binding of Isaac hellhole instead. I mean, warm and comfortable home. 

Writers – we are fortunate that our passion is portable. You can do it anywhere! Run away from all distractions. Leave the house. Close the Facebook tab. Throw your TV out the window**. Tell Isaac’s basement monsters to go die in a hole (temporarily). Whatever you need to do – do it. 

*Eating as fast as I can.

**If your TV is made of a sponge, and won’t hurt any innocently wandering pigeons or alley cats on the street below. 

Don’t solely “write what you know”.

As writers, we are commonly told to “write what [we] know”. I don’t like this rule. I think the moment you start putting limitations on your creativity, the harder it becomes to actually create. Which is awfully unhelpful, all things considered. 

I’m not saying there isn’t any truth in the idea. Indeed, writing what you “know” is a surefire way to help infuse your work with heart and authenticity. But on the other hand, adhering to this idea throughout your writing career may cut you off from exploring certain areas of your creativity and thereby damage your passion for/enjoyment you get from the art.

Infuse your work with elements of what you know, by all means. But don’t feel like you only have to stick to life experiences, and can’t think fantastically and ridiculously. Do you think Tolkein actually stumbled across Mordor with Frodo and Bilbo? Do you think J.K. Rowling actually went to a school for wizards? Do you think C.S. Lewis actually fell into a furry wardrobe and woke up to find a centaur gawping at him? Well, perhaps, but it’s highly unlikely. I have no doubt that their works were infused with emotions they had felt and experiences they had had; but their books are also full of unbound imagination. And so are you. Write whatever you want. 

Talk to other writers.

The writing community is an exceptional one. I am lucky enough that a lot of my nearest and dearest share my love for it – which, from a pettier angle, you might think cause for jealousy and competition. I disagree. My writer’s community is a space for inspiration, encouragement and support. My fellow writers, when motivation wears thin and thus my commitment to it begins to tremble, help me rediscover my incentives. 

Sometimes I go for “writer’s lunches” with my friend (novelist and complete babe), Amy. She gives me pointers on my work and ideas, and vice versa. These are inspiring, productive and encouraging sessions, never failing to rekindle my creative flame. Though this is the first example that springs to my mind, I actually have “flame rekindlers” in pretty much every corner of my life. My brother is an exceptional writer, and we are constantly reading, constructively criticising and praising each other’s work. My partner is, too, one of the best writers I have ever met, and is generous enough to offer his unique insights when reading my work. 

Jealousy, shmealousy. That’s not been my experience of other writers at all – so don’t be afraid to work with those that support you, and want to see you flourish. It has done nothing but help serve and shape me! 

Be optimistic…

… and prepare for rejection, at the same time. Rejection is a part of life. I have been rejected thousands of times; for pieces I secretly knew weren’t brilliant and pieces I poured my heart and soul into, too. But you can’t hold onto those things. Hold onto the good things – the feeling you have when you publish something, whether it’s received widely or not. The sense of achievement you get from being proud of your fledgling project. Getting excited about an article or story or rap (if that’s your thing). Kind criticism or feedback from your writing community.

I have always felt that if you tap and tap and tap at the wall of something you’re passionate about, you’ll eventually see it crumble a bit, or maybe even a lot – the wall will fall down, and you will be there. I know that sounds naive and silly, and I don’t mean to give “false hope” – but I really believe that if you have talent and heart, then… why not?

Remember, you’re already there.

I’ve been co-reading with and learning about a really good chimp book with my partner and it said something (among many other things) that struck me as very wise, which was essentially – whatever you want to be, you are it. It meant it in a more character-centric way – as in, if you aspire to be an honest person, you’re already an honest person, if you aspire to be a funny person, you’re already a funny person etc – but it certainly applies to your creative craft, too. Do you scribble bits sentences down on a napkin and shove them in your pocket? You’re a writer. Do you write little poems and limericks on your commute for ten minutes a day? You’re a writer. Do you start novels, but never finish them? You’re still a writer.

If you want to be a writer and are writing – congratulations. You already are one.

It’s all for you.

This blog will probably never be famous. I don’t think I’m the next Zoella or Ella’s Kitchen (the latter would be a hilarious attempt, as I eat/snort a bag of sugar a day). But I write it because I like it. It’s that simple.

 
Remember why you love to write. If your love for writing is strong enough, then you’ll rely less and less on external validation to make you feel good about it. You’ll simply feel good about it, because you’re doing it, and you’re enjoying it – and the freedom of knowing that will help lift the shackles from your mind, and your well of inspiration will bubble up without the fear of another’s judgement. Forget about them. Think about you. It’s your work of art.

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