Writing isn’t easy.
Sure, we can trick ourselves into thinking that the tweet we’ve just posted is a haiku-like thing of brief but eloquent beauty.
Or that the Facebook war we’ve just engaged in on the fallout of Donald Trump’s electoral victory has marked us out as eloquent political analysts who are just a few networking sessions away from scoring a permanent slot as columnists for the New York Times.
But the fact remains that good writing is something that needs to be worked for, and worked on – no matter how bright your English teachers thought you were in school, or how clever you think your observations about the world may be.
Having slogged through as a journalist for some 10 years and counting – during which I even managed to squeeze out a novel and take some copywriting gigs on the side – it’s safe to say that I’ve learnt some things along the way (one of them being – never give in to accidental rhyme).
And it would be unfair for me not to share it with you guys. So here goes.
1. For God’s sake, read
Fact: If you’re an aspiring writer, you’re no longer allowed to complain about not having enough time to read.
I don’t care how busy you are or how tired you get after work – reading is essential to keep your mind limber and your options open.
We can bang home the metaphors – reading is to writing what running track is to marathon runners, etc. – but let’s not beat around the bush. It should be a given that the more varied material you internalize, the easier will it be to adapt it to your work.
Which is especially handy when you’re dealing with tight deadlines: be they for copywriting, content writing, journalism, that epic poem Faber & Faber have just commissioned you to write… whatever.
Take a page from the late, great Ray Bradbury’s book (see what I did there?!): he suggested that a writer should read one short story, essay and poem each night before bed. That way, what emerges from their pen the next morning will be a beautiful synthesis of all three.
Make this, or a variant of it, a regular habit, and you’ll be well on your way to honing your style to serious, professional levels.
2. And for God’s sake, write. It is called writing after all.
Consider the swan.
A beautiful creature gliding its way across the lake, all beautiful and shit. But peek under the water and you’ll see that what’s in fact propelling the swan forward is a motor-like motion of flippers – flapping away in a way that’s hard to match the elegance of what’s on the surface.
And writing is exactly the same. At best, it’s a glittering end result of hard labour. Of seemingly endless drafts and piles of notes that you patiently beat into shape before settling in on anything remotely satisfactory.
So please, for God’s sake, write. Get those rough drafts out of your system and hone your way with words. If you don’t have a subject to write about yet, jot down your thoughts and see where it takes you.
Because most of the time, writing is about making confusing and incomplete thoughts coherent and pretty.
It’s about smoothening the edges of our perceptions and giving them a shape that’s clearly understandable by all.
Achieving this requires practice. So get to it, and…
3. For God’s sake, don’t complain about not having time
We’ve touched upon this already, but it deserves its own sub-heading because it’s probably the most common impediment to prospective writing careers and it needs to be killed with fire.
Here’s the thing: carving out a consistent writing schedule is what separates the pros from the amateurs.
Tinkering away at your writing every now and then isn’t going to strengthen its development in the long-term. The real benefits will start to show only after you’ve made it a habit.
Of course, I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, some radical adjustments may need to be made.
4. For God’s sake, dump that annoying partner
The cult filmmaker John Waters, apart from sporting the creepiest mustache this side of paedoville, once said that we should encourage reading by refusing to have sex with anyone who, upon inviting us to their place for some post-date nookie, ends up revealing that they have no books around the house.
This may sound like an extreme solution, but I agree with it, frankly. And what I’m about to propose when it comes to your own writing is even more radical still.
Namely, don’t fuck anyone who belittles your aspirations of writing as a ‘waste of time’ that offers no monetary return in the short term. (And for God’s sake – again – don’t move in with them).
Writing is already a hard and lonely path. So dump anyone who isn’t encouraging you along the way. Yes, this may sound harsh. But the commitment required is real.