Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Advice For Writers

More and more I get asked for advice from aspiring writers.  Mostly this is because I have a book, not because I really know anything.  I'm not good at giving advice.  Actually, I'm pretty good at it, just not very good at following it myself.  So take all of this with a grain of salt.  Actually, you should probably just click away to some other website right now.  If you're still here, or have just reached the end of the internet, seriously: I've given a lot of thought to what I say to a serious writer who is asking me for serious perspective, and in so much as I can give it, I usually speak to these things:

  1. Find your faults.  You have them.  We all do.  One thing my other job has taught me is to actively seek out process improvement.  Usually we wait for problems to come to us - it's how we know their problems - but most often in business, this can get you in trouble.  The same applies to your art.  It is a process; you should actively seek to improve it.  The best way to do that is to:
  2. Feed your head.  Find your faults and grow your art by reading, reading, reading.  Indiscriminately read.  Reading 'bad' gets you as far as 'good.'  Enroll in workshops.  Take classes.  Seek a degree, if you're that committed.  Join a writer's group, online or not.  Feedback is essential.  Expose yourself to as much experience and variance in writing as you can and learn to distinguish between #1 what you like and what you dont, and #2 what works and what doesn't.  Very often those four things will be confused and you will spend a lot of time negotiating them.  You never will start unless you go hunting for brain food.
  3. Listen.  Writing is language and language is music; movement; melody; time.  Listen to conversations on the train.  The rhythm of an argument.  The current of emotion in someone's voice running under what they're actually saying.  Being a good listener will only improve your writing in general, but paritcularly, your dialogue.  Which is the most fun for me.
  4. Don't worry about getting published.  Frankly, this is the most common thing people ask - how do I get published?  What do I need to do?  Worry about writing a great book.  Publishing will take care of itself and nowadays you can take care of that on your own just fine.
  5. Get real.  Most of us will never be widely read, appreciated, or understood.  Most of us will write good work that most people will never see.  The object is not validation, or money, or respect.  The single biggest challenge you will face is the internal need for all of those things.  You a writer after all.  You communicate.  If you're not sharing, if you're not hearing voices back, you pale at the silence.  I understand this.  All writers do.  Worry about what you have to say.  Your voice.  Have a voice, and then you will be heard.  If all you do is scream and shout to get attention - and there's plenty of that in every art - then you will be quickly forgotten.  The voices at the end in any conversation are those that endure; resonate; compel. 
I believe if you find your faults, feed your head, and just listen, you will have something to say that people want to hear.

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