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About writing: my advice for me ten years ago

Hello 2007 Me

You’ve done it! You've thrown yourself off that career ladder, landed in your daydream. Now you can become a writer. Hooray!

Exciting, isn’t it? Not really knowing what you’ve let yourself in for, pleased with yourself for going on instinct. I'll tell you what you’ll learn about writing over the next ten years, so you can judge if you've done the right thing.

We both love a list, and obviously lists with ten points are the best, so:

1. You want to know how to be a writer. It’s like this - when you’re writing you’re a writer, the rest of the time you're not. That’s all. The noun is loaded with clichés that’ll weigh you down. Focus on the verb.

“To be is to do”—Socrates “To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre “Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra

2. There is no instruction manual for writing, no perfect routine or process. The only right way is your own. You’ll find out what it is, eventually. I’m afraid it involves hardly any lounging about being an aesthete.

3. When reading, you want insights into the human condition, new ideas about the world. You can’t write novels like that. The story must come first. Don’t worry, when you start to look you’ll see stories everywhere. Tell them and you’ll find that one or two ideas snuck in sideways.

4. That so-called novel you’ve started writing, you’re going to abandon it, but only after completely rewriting it three times. You won’t regret the journey. Oh, alright, you will. But along the way you'll learn enough to write an actual novel that does what novels do.

5. You’re going to procrastinate. Procrastination is like binge drinking: pretended fun followed by self-loathing. Consume time responsibly: writing takes ages.

Things that you'll count as writing that just don't:


Carefully crafted FB posts

Listing possible writing activities

Googling writing advice

Gazing at the sea meaningfully

Being accompanied by your laptop in a pub garden

6. Some days, you’ll know what you’re writing is utter pants. If you carry on regardless, you’ll discover what it was you should have been writing, just like magic (slow, agonising magic).

7. When your creative brain has been taken out to play often enough, she’ll start showing up at inconvenient moments, yelling odd ideas, sending you on fool’s errands. Her name is Gonzo and she is extremely good company.

8. Speaking of company, there are many, many more aspiring writers out there than anybody who isn’t one knows. You aren't so different after all, but you'll be glad it. They’ll help you, inspire and teach you, become your friends.

9. Some people will like your writing, enough to print it, and that's delicious, but...

10. Your daydream is your novels on display in Waterstones, award sticker on the front, amazed reviews on the back. You'll learn how unlikely that is (see point 8), but by that point it won't matter. You'll submit like billy-o, and above all you'll keep on writing.

-You’ll write because Gonzo and those stories you found badger you to do so.

-You’ll write because your characters tell jokes you haven’t heard before.

-You’ll write because you’ll re-imagine the places you visited into settings, new experiences into scenes.

-You’ll write because you’ve been so grumpy about having to do all the other stuff life makes you do that isn’t writing.

-You’ll write because sometimes a sentence appears on your screen which expresses something exactly the way you didn't know you needed to.

-You’ll write because you're so flippin’ happy when you're writing.

Phew. Well, 2007 Me, that’s your ten points. You can figure out the details for yourself. How do you feel about being a writer?

Hhhm, still cocky (as well as young, skinny, and expensively dressed).

Right then, you asked for it, here's another list you need to hear: 10 mistakes you'll make while drunk. Ready?

Thanks for the pic Tony Gaitskell


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