Twenty-Five Random Thoughts About Writing

Right what is says on the tin – it got inspired by a facebook meme but my natural love of verbage meant it raged out of control. Anyway, this is actually a pretty good summary of what the interior of my head looks like when the subject of writing comes up. Some are me-specific, some a general, and most were written down fast in order to see what the first twenty-five thoughts that came to mind actually were. I take no responsibility for accidents caused if you follow any of these hastily constructed thoughts and give the usual warnings of upcoming writer-angst (it’s been that kind of week):

1) There is no “one true way to write,” but there are several commonly touted pieces of advice that both make sense to me and largely represent an decent list of “things worth doing unless you’ve got a good reason not to.”

2) This list is not one of them.

3) There is nothing I can achieve as a writer that will silence that little voice in the back of my head urging me to do more. I will never do enough and I can always do things better. This probably isn’t a bad thing, since the alternative is stagnation.

4) Fear is the mind-killer. Many problems with getting something written can be traced back to fear of some kind.

5) Writing does not lend itself to sick days. Nor does it lend itself to holidays. It would be nice if it did, but the realities of putting writing first means it’s unlikely to happen.

6) Writing is a stupid career choice. You will know this, because people will tell you the same thing in a myriad of ways – the low rate of monetary reward, the sneer people get at parties when you tell them what you do, the prolonged conversations with family members who still think things like “owning a house” and “getting a real job” are in your future. Eventually it will sink in and you’ll start having these conversations with yourself.

7) Once six sinks in, the primary thing between you and writing tends to be yourself (see point four) . There are no issues that cannot be fixed by writing more.

8) Focus on the things you can control (submissions, practice, wordcount), because it’ll distract you from the things that you can’t (acceptances, the publishing industry, society frowning at you because you’re a jobless wastrel).

8b) Wastrel is one of those words, you know? It just begs to be used.

9) It’s never seriously occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it as a writer. This could result in a very rude shock sometime over the next two decades.

10) Writing exists in isolation from the rest of the world – I have trouble seeing the correlation between real world issues (such as the nightmare busy periods in the day job, when I have one lined up) with low-energy-periods in writing. These things will be obvious to everyone else, but I keep missing them.

11) Writing is a million times easier once you’ve got a network of folks who understand how writing/publishing works than it is when you’re surrounded by people who don’t. The former understand why you’re excited by getting a short story published while acknowledging its not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, while the latter just think it’s “nice” or “a very big deal.”

12) Most writing advice and editorial conventions are much easier to understand and implement once you’ve been told why they’re in place. For example, understanding the history of poetry as a purely verbal Epic form helped me wrap my head around why rhyme and meter became important (and understanding that helped me figure out why free verse came about and started doing what it does).

13) There are many things in writing that you need to learn, but everyone assumes you already know how to do. Some of it is covered in how-to-write books and courses, but the really important stuff isn’t – how to deal with page-proofs, how to run your finances – and by the time you need to know it, people usually assume you’ve already got it under your belt.

14) Banging your head against a brick wall might not be the most effective way of bring it down, but it both works and proves enormously satisfying when you eventually succeed.

15) There is a point in every project where everything feels like its going wrong and it needs to be scrapped. Even something as simple as this blog-post (Incidentally, the self-critique on this kicked in right…now. This is doubt point for this list. I am giving myself permission to be a pompous wanker in order to get this finished – see point 4).

16) The primary manifestation of fear tends to be self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, and a sense of self-depreciation in regards to writing.

17) Talking about writing with other writers can be a source of exquisite pleasure, but also a source of distraction. At some point you need to stop celebrating the fact that there are other people who ‘get it’ and get back to work.

18) Rejection is your friend – you instantly have a piece of writing that’s ready to send elsewhere, and a market that’s sitting empty and waiting for you to send them something. It may be frustrating at the time, but in the long-term having someone say no is a good thing. Acceptance mean you need to write more in order to keep the cycle going.

18b) Not that I’m knocking acceptances – they’re pretty damn sweet.

19) Writing is not art. Nor is it entertainment. The thing you have written at the end might be both, but conceptualising the act of writing as anything other than a job that needs doing tends to result of frustration (‘Course, conceptualising it as a job results in frustration as well).

19b) You aren’t allowed to hurt people who say things lings “I want to write to be more creative” or “I don’t care if I ever make any money, I just want to do this for me.” You’ll want to, really you will, but it’s impolite and the cultural myth around art largely means they’re over-romanticized the job.

20) None of the following things are mandatory parts of being a writer: coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, promiscuous sex, road trips, silly hats, cups of tea, an interesting life, drug habits, a garret in France, fame, fortune, volatile personal relationships, angst, suicide, fishing for marlin off the coast of pain, pining for a muffin and promising yourself you can have one after you’ve finished the next thousand words of your screenplay, neurotic self-destruction, a black turtleneck, anything else you can think of that doesn’t involve some aspect of either writing or submitting things. And yet, for some reason, I’ve made the mistake of thinking many of those are part of the process at least once.

21) You are not a real writer. There is no such thing. People-who-don’t-write will not think you’re a real writer unless you have Stephen King/JK Rowling/Stephanie Meyer-like success. There is no writers union who will drop past and give you a real-writer business card. Therefore, you should probably go back to work. Unless you’re a poet, because they do have a union in Australia. Although I’m not sure it does much, and they probably don’t have cards that’ll make you a real writer either.

22) Odds are, I will not have Stephen-King-like success. I’m okay with that, really. I probably won’t be JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer either. I’m cool with that too.

23) I want to hide this list under a clicky-cut because it feels pompous and arrogant. This fear stems from the suspicion that I haven’t done enough to justify writing a list of thoughts about writing. Presenting myself as a writer who knows stuff invites a frightening level of public censure.

24) You will inevitably come to dislike most of the things you have published, if only because you can see the flaws. That’s a good thing – it means you’ve grown as a writer. When you can see the flaws even before something is published, you’re probably better off saying no and re-writing it rather than living with the nagging guilt.

25) The next draft of this list would be so much better. If I was sensible, I’d probably listen to myself on point 24. At the very least I’d go back and make sure it was all in first or second person. Unfortunately it’s time to go work on something else.

  1 comment for “Twenty-Five Random Thoughts About Writing

  1. Heidi O'Brien
    16/01/2010 at 6:57 AM

    Thanks Peter, fantastic list. My thing is when people ask, 'so what are you writing?' and you can't talk about it because you feel kind of paralysed, and he story is making sense in your head but when you say it out loud it will be all jumbled and then it will disappear. Then they keep on insisting and going 'what is it ABOUT?' I hate that.

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