First of all, I am a new writer. I’m young, and didn’t study writing, or anything to do with writing, at university. I’m also unpublished, and have absolutely no credentials (other than this weird blog).
One thing that I have going for me though, is that I write. A lot. A hell of a lot. And to me, this is the single most important piece of advice any new writer should take: Write. A lot.
In high school, I don’t think I wrote a single essay that wasn’t necessary for my graded coursework. In my final year of high school, I didn’t write a single ‘just for practice’ essay until a few months before exams. Fortunately, I did okay. I didn’t get a perfect score, but I got a score high enough to get my name in the paper (it’s just a thing my state did for VCE results – it’s truly not a big deal). How? I have no fucking idea. All I can say is that I was exceedingly lucky.
Not the good sort of lucky.
Why wasn’t this a “good sort of lucky?” Because this habit translated seamlessly into uni. Every single essay/exam I had to write, I wrote the night before it was due. No drafting. No preparing. Just straight up, I’m cramming the shit out of this and hoping for the best.
Setting aside the actual content of legal work, I knew that my writing wasn’t great (it was horrible). In fact, in one of my first year units, a fairly major unit in terms of law school, my tutor/lecturer handed me back one of my essays and said: “you apply the law well and you seem to know what you’re doing. But your expression is atrocious. Go and buy a grammar-basics book or something. It’ll help you get a better mark next time.”
Obviously, I couldn’t say: “Hey, listen, buddy, I wrote this essay in a few hours, and I didn’t even bother to proof read it. Give me a break.” Cause that would make me look like an asshole. Nevertheless, he was completely right. And it was a great reality check.
Although I didn’t act on his advice at the time, there was a reason for it, a reason that wasn’t birthed purely out of laziness.
The reason: A fear of failure.
Like I said, deep down, I knew that I was submitting horrible work. Because of this, I couldn’t even bare to face my words. Instead, I ran. I ran far away from my essays, closed my eyes, and handed in what I knew would afford me a pass.
Why? Well, because it’s much easier to say to yourself: “Hey, I’d have gotten a much better mark had I actually tried.” Than saying, “Fuck. I did my best and I still failed.”
Out of these two options : [a] admit that I did my best with the tools I had and still failed, or [b] actually put in some hard yakka and improve my work, I chose [c] fuck this shit, where’s the whiskey?
What so many of us do, well, at least what I was penchant for doing, is mould ourselves to our shortcomings. We accept things we do that are sub-par, and manage getting by while knowing that we’re not giving our ultimate best.
Instead of owning up to our problems and our missteps, we turn the other cheek and run away.
For writers, I know that this is a big issue. When you’ve a brilliant story sitting in your head, but for some reason, it just doesn’t translate so smoothly on the written page – it’s heartbreaking. Discouraging. And makes you want to crawl in a hole and never get out.
But the key is, of course, to push through.
I was lucky. When I first started writing outside of uni work, I really believed that my writing was great. I’d write, and I’d write, thousands of words every day, thinking, in blissful ignorance, that my writing was great.
Needless to say, it wasn’t. It was horrid. A couple of years ago I re-read the first manuscript I’d ever written. Wow. It brought tears to my eyes – tears of laughter. How I ever considered it a work of art, I’ll never know. The ideas were great (I reckon), sure. But the writing – shit atop shit.
I only wrote that manuscript 4 years ago. Since then, I’ve written… hmm, probably close to a million words. And what do you know – surprise, surprise – my writing’s a bit better. I paid attention to what was wrong, made it right, wiggled, shimmied, and bingo bango – I started producing work that didn’t read as if it were written by a drunk leprechaun.
Not to say that my writing is incredible now; I’m probably more self-critical than I’ve ever been. But you want to know why that is?
Because now – I actually critique my work. Instead of turning the other cheek, I scrutinise the shit out of my writings, am honest with myself, and take steps toward improvement.
Instead of letting a fear of failure debilitate me into stagnation, I move forward – with or without shit writing.
Ultimately, the point is that like anything worthwhile, if you want to write something that other people will want to read – it takes time. It takes a lot of time, a lot of practice, and a lot of work.
The key then, a simple key: is to write.
To write a lot.
To write when you don’t feel like writing. To write when you think you have nothing to write.
To write when you’re struck with inspiration. To write when you’re struck with a cold.
To write about things you don’t want to write about. To write about things you’ve always wanted to write about.
To write regularly. To make writing a part of your daily routine.
To write when you think your writing’s going nowhere. To write about not being able to write.
To write when you’re on the toilet. To write when you’re on a plane. To write when there are mother fucking snakes, on your mother fucking plane.
It’s the most effective way to improve your writing – Just. Fucking. Write.
Humans-are-weird. Writes these articles as a form of self-motivation.