There are things you want to sit every new writer down and tell them, right at the start. Things you’d like them to understand, because they’re things you didn’t understand back when you were starting out and they would have been useful to know. Or things you don’t understand now, even though you’ve been at this for a while, and it would be nice to spare them that particular slice of pain.
You want to tell them its going to take work, and when they nod like they understand, you want to grab them by the arm and really make them comprehend what you’re saying. “No,” you want to hiss at them, “it’s going to take work. You think you know what you’re getting into, but your head is full of dreams and lies and myths that are fucking with you. It’s going to take so much more work than you’re thinking, and none of it is as fun as you’re thinking.”
You wan to tell them that it starts hard and gets harder. You want to tell them it will take time. No, more time than you’re thinking. No, more time than that.
You want to tell them they’re going to fuck up. That they’re going to fuck up a lot at the beginning, when they want to be better, and they’ll fuck up even more later on and it will hurt worse ’cause the stakes seem so much higher.
You want to tell them they need to write every day, or they need to ignore the advice to write every day, because it’s so much easier than mashing an idea of what writing really is into their head and getting them to figure out how it works.
You want to scream “Figure out your business model. Figure out what you really want,” ’cause, god, that would make this whole advice thing so much easier.
You want to tell them why you cringe when they talk about their memoir, or when you laugh when they talk about their dream of getting published, just once. You want to tell them about the ways they’ll learn to celebrate personalised rejections, and the idea of being close but not quite close enough.
You want to tell them about the point where the rush of getting published and read starts to ebb, and you realise that it’s staying published that’s the real challenge..
You want to gather up all your mistakes – the real ones and the half-imagines ones, and the ones that wasted time – and put them on display like art in a gallery, so you can say, “all these things I did, the stuff that got me to here? Avoid these. Please, avoid these. Find a better path.”
Not because you don’t want people to make their own mistakes – making mistakes and learning from them is how you got where you are – but because you want to avoid the mistakes that really grind the wonky thinking about writing and publishing and making a living into their mindset.
You want to figure out how to do this without sounding like an arse, which is hard, ’cause talking about writing without sounding like an arse is incredibly hard to do.
Then, mostly, you go and have a cup of tea and read a great book for a while. One of the ones with language and characters and story that makes your heart soar and remind you how far you’ve got to go, still, before you write the kinds of things you want to be writing. You start lining those books up on a shelf, greatness pressed against greatness, so you can see how many people have achieved that thing you’re chasing.
You stop looking back along the road you’ve travelled, and start looking forward. You think about the ways that looking back is easier, because you know where you’ve been and you don’t really know where you’re going, right now. You’re just…ready to walk. Ready to work. Ready to start figuring things out.
And you figure, well, all the writing advice we need is really simple:
Get your shit out there.
And the work you do right now means a hell of a lot more than the work you might do tomorrow, so you should probably go do that.