Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.*
Sometimes I feel there are more writers teaching others how to write, passing down rules, than there are writers who actually write.
It’s easier to teach than to do, and it feels like a nice shortcut towards fame, success, money, whatever.
I do my best not to teach anyone how to write. I want to believe I’m just writing about my own process. If someone finds motivation, or inspiration, or something else worth applying in their own process, that’s cool. If not, it’s still cool.
So, yeah, there are a lot of rules being passed down. Most of them won’t apply to everyone.
First of all, practice makes perfect, but you should also be aware that writing is an art.
One of the most intricate of art forms. So, the simple truth is that no matter how much you try, how hard you’ll work, there will always be someone better than you. I know it’s not grandly inspirational and stuff, but trust me, it kind of sets your level of expectation where it belongs.
Let me give you an example. Arthur Rimbaud. If you haven’t heard of him, he was a French poet who wrote most of his stuff between the age of 16 and 20, and is considered one of the best French poets in history. Even though I don’t believe much in talent as an innate ability to create art, there will be someone who’ll start making great art right away; because of all the little actions and experiences that make up a great artist have been molding him into one.
Some of my writer friends might read this and think I’m just trying to act all modest. Usually I’m ambitious to the brink of arrogant. So let me say this: Even though I may not be the best of writers and maybe I won’t ever be as good as I hope to be, I am a firm believer that at least some of my writing, even a little bit of it, can be as good as any great writer could have written. Maybe because I know that luck is just a matter of trying, or maybe because hard work tends to pay off in time, but I know that every writer is capable of writing a brilliant piece of writing.
Let me give you another example. Alexandru Macedonski was a Romanian novelist and poet. Most of his stuff is either bad or cliche. Just about all of it, actually. But in some of his works he exhibited a level of innovation and talent that was remarkable for the time period.
Another rule? Read, read, read.
I know it sounds like such a terrible cliche, and I know that at least two thousand different writers and editors and journalists and bloggers wrote it before me, but it’s true, and it’s the best advice anyone can give you, maybe even the only real advice.
Read anything and everything. Even books you hate, books that are plain bad. Successful books, bad books, everything adds. You accumulate a great deal of knowledge about the craft from every novel or short story you read. Even screenplays, comic books, anything you can get your hands on. All that adds to your knowledge about what writing is and what writing is supposed to do. Eventually, if you read enough, you’ll figure out that there aren’t many other rules left. There will be at least a brilliant writer who discards one of those “sacred” rules of writing.
Only by reading a lot can you develop this sense of figuring out if something you’ve written works or not. Sometimes you won’t be able to figure out why, but you’ll still be able to sense that there’s something wrong with it.
Then there’s another rule, much like the previous one: write, write, write. It’s another one of those common sense rules that gets discarded too often. If you wait to be better or wiser before you set up to write your best idea, you’ll never get better nor wiser. You just write, page after page, until you get better, until you can write more and more. And the process becomes easier on your fingers, easier on your brain, easier on your sanity.
No one writes a brilliant first draft, and that’s never going to change, but you’ll see things differently.
A short intermission. When I was a kid, I used to write in Romanian. I was terrible at it for a long time. But I do get pretty ambitious when I set my mind on something. So for two years I was a machine; reading anywhere some hundred novels a year (I still don’t know how I had the time) and writing furiously. At 16 I wrote a novella and won a National Competition. And several other smaller ones with some of my short stories. Maybe I just got lucky, maybe hard work paid off. Who knows?
What I’m really trying to say with this long post is that there are only two valid actions if you want to be better at whatever you’re doing. First, observe the ones who are good at it (read,) then practice as often as possible (write.)
*Some folks have mistakenly thought the post is about high school teachers or something like that. Or they thought the first sentence… whatever. It’s not. That first sentence is about writers passing down rules about writing as a job, without creating some real artwork.
This post was sponsored by Leonor Carrosquilla, who just released her first book, Red Circle Days. This is what she has to say about it:
There are moments in our lives that are imprinted into our very soul. Moments that don’t require a photo album or memory book for us to revisit them time and time again. Some may bring to life the very feelings of sheer happiness they brought the day we experienced them. Others bring the heart wrenching sorrow we spend years trying to erase. These are moments that don’t need a reminder or a red circle on a calendar date, our hearts wrapping around them much like the tiny box on a calendar, keeping them contained only to bring them to the surface each year. Red Circle Days is a collection of those moments that I will forever carry with me, thought provoking moments and stories which have left an indelible imprint on my very soul.