Advice. You can’t get away from it if you’re a writer. In fact, if you’re trying to be a writer, you’re probably actively seeking advice. In our early days we dream of being given that one piece of advice that turns it all around, makes our struggles to complete the novel, or find an agent, into a breeze.
There is no shortage of writing advice. Driving home last night, there was an interview on the radio with John Boyne the author of “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” about his new book “The Absolutist”. Having read neither book (yet), this isn’t a book review, but Mr Boyne was asked what advice he would give aspiring writers.
He said he would advise anyone to consider a writing course. He said that no, you couldn’t teach someone to be a writer, but by meeting with other writers and comparing and reading your work and theirs, you could spot your mistakes through their mistakes. He said this held true even for himself – he mentioned reading a short story by and eighteen year-old student, pointing out a flaw and realising it was a mistake he himself made.
Good advice, clearly. When you sit at home and write for yourself, you worry that what you produce may not be good enough, but you’ll never know if it stays on your computer. Sharing it with others can be helpful, if only because you might work that bit harder to get it perfect before you expose it to the light of day.
A word of warning though. Make sure you respect the opinions of those you are discussing your work with. That may be the sole reason for paying for a University-based course, rather than attending your local village writer’s group. I once attended a local writing group that mindlessly over-analysed trivial details and tore apart a very nice piece of writing. Their qualifications? Well, suffice to say that none were in the big leagues of publishing, nor could they back up their objections with anything more solid than “It just seems…well, you know….I think…”
But the other thing Mr Boyne advised, something that’s said again and again by lots of authors is this : Write every day. Discipline, folks. You don’t have to write a literary masterpiece every day, you don’t have to write with a smile on your face and song in your heart every day. You don’t even have to write the same project every day. Oh, and today’s big secret? NO one is going to know if you DON’T write every day. But the point isthat you get better at what you do often. If you only try juggling once a month, it’s going to take a long time to crack a five ball shower. If you juggle every day, it’ll come around a lot sooner. (Although, take it from me, it’s NO WAY TO EARN A STEADY INCOME.)
It’s the hardest advice of all, because real life has a nasty way of filling your day if you let it, and writing never seems that important to the people who don’t do it. So how about this? Forget how many novels you’ve published or haven’t published. If you can write every day, you’re a writer, right?
How do you get to write every day? Or do you? Do you write as often as you wish, or do you wish you could write more often? And what the hell is it with Martin Amis, eh? Did he swallow a Dictionary and Thesaurus and throw up on his typewriter?
I wrote a book on writing plays, not by writing every day, but I got it done and I’m proud of it. You can find it for sale and download at www.tlc-creative.co.uk because I don’t have the direct link with me. It’s in my other jacket, I think….