Monday, 25 June 2012

How to be a bloody awful writer


Writing advice can be sickening. Stick around on the internet long enough and you'll keep reading the same old tripe, constantly regurgitated by would-be writing experts, vomiting up platitudes as if they are pearls of wisdom when in fact they are the stale old hair-balls we've already been gagging on. Don't worry, as a purveyor of writing 'wisdom' I'm well aware of the irony – truth is, if I really knew what I was talking about I'd be sunning myself in a Tuscan villa, sipping Chianti whilst penning my next best-seller. But I'm not. I'm here, trying to tell you what I think I know about writing. So for this post I thought I'd share something I'm confident I know a lot about – how to be a bloody awful writer.

Give up


Writing isn't like too much hard work – it is too much hard work. What previously seemed like a leisurely lifestyle tapping away at a keyboard whilst sipping Chianti in a Tuscan villa (N.B. theme) is actually one long, hard, unappreciated and underpaid slog in squalor while the mortgage goes unpaid and the kids starve. Who want's that? Not me, not you, and certainly not the kids. Have some dignity – give it the hell up.

Never finish


You don't have enough fingers for all the fuckwits who come up to you and say: hey, I've got a great idea for a novel/play/film but I'm not going to tell you because you'll steal it and make a million. Just for the record – no we won't. We don't need your ideas. We've got enough of our own.  Ideas are easy – writing a story with enough narrative interest to last more than two pages is hard. Very hard. It's hard enough trying to write something that maintains our interest as we're writing it – never mind the reader reading it. So don't bother – write in the white-hot heat of inspiration and when the passion fades, move on. Sticking with a piece that bores you would be like taking the time to reignite a stale marriage - and who bothers to do that these days?

Best to just move on to the next.

Never share your work


Because people think they know everything but they just don't. They'll never understand what you are trying to achieve. They'll just say hurtful things like 'it's not finished'. They will care about the fact that it's not interesting beyond page two. People are just too selfish to cough up hard cash to fund your writing lifestyle so you can find time to develop yourself as a human being and as a writer in your Tuscan villa in the Chianti hills. Sharing your work would be like coughing up hair-balls before swine – or something like that. You might have to reassess your (lack of) talent. You might have to self-analyse. And heaven help us – you might be obliged to rewrite. No chance. Keep it to yourself.

Never learn


If you wanted to learn you'd have been a teacher or something, right? Writing isn't about learning, it's not about craft or structure, it's about art, it's about typing, it's about tapping into your unadulterated angst and rage about the injustices you've suffered in your life and the fact that nobody appreciates you as a distinct and special human being who's hairballs are worth perfect strangers handing over good money so you can fund your lifestyle in the Chianti hills, Tuscany, Italy. Learning might have made that last sentence punctuated better.  Learning is for chumps.

Join a writers' group


What better way to convince yourself you’re a writer when you can't be bothered to learn about the craft or even finish what you're writing than to surround yourself with other people who are exactly the same? You can then let other people who don't know what they're talking about tell you what you should be doing with your writing – then you can dismiss them out of hand because if they really knew what they were doing, they'd be in Tuscany sipping Chianti - rather than in a Peckham pub sipping Fosters. The great thing about a writers' group is that if you follow their advice, you'll all be writing the same stuff – in fact you can pretty much let them write it for you. And the best thing about being part of a writers' group? It makes you feel like a writer even when you're not doing any writing!

Because that's all we really care about, right?

12 comments:

  1. Not sure about the last one - I'd say 'Join the wrong writers' group' - there are good ones out there, just hard to find.

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    1. I knew as I was writing that one that it was far more arguable than the others. It all very much depends on the group as you say. I think it also depends on what stage you are at with your writing and how confident you are in your idea. I've seen wonderfully original ideas critiqued into blandness by a well-intentioned group. We have to remember these people are learning too - a young writer joining a well-established group may forget. Good critiquing is also a skill entirely distinct from writing. I've know excellent writers who couldn't critique themselves out of a paper bag - and vice versa. The truth is, to assess a good critiquer of your work, you already have to be a fairly decent writer and be reasonably confident of what it is you are trying to achieve. If you don't have those things you and your work may suffer in a writers' group. It's a cruel irony that when you need the feedback most is when you're least able to assess it.

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  2. You've voiced my fear,in that perfect strangers aren't going to hand over their cash to read my novel. That's a G&T in Blighty for me then...

    Another great post, James.

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    1. Don't worry, Hem - I'm still waiting to pay. Have a G&T on me.

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  3. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

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    1. No, thank you. And I hope to see you, Anon ;)

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  4. Great post, James. I follow all advice. Or not. One of those :)

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    1. Yep, best to keep your options open, Gene. :)

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  5. So, there is another out there in cyberspace who knows the truth. Thank you for voicing what I believe. However, if it wasn't for you, James Killick, in a writers group, the story I really wanted to tell would have lurked in the backwash of medieval adventure and never seen the light of day. I raise my glass of Chianti to you, from my balcony overlooking the Tuscan Hills. Thank you!

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    1. Hello, Wendy. It's been a while. I remember the story well - and it was well worth the investment. Hope you, and your story, are doing well. Great to hear from you again.

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  6. I enjoyed the article. I have made an effort to only let people who share my vision read my work before completion (not that it's ever complete). Also I do appreciate learning about English/creative writing. I feel it's like any passion in this respect: To make it a success one must make it unique to that individual or, in this case writer. The cliche comes to mind, "Just be yourself."

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    1. Hey Samuel, thanks for the comment and glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you find other stuff here of interest. Yep, part of the writer's journey is continued learning. Soon as you stop learning, you stagnate. One of the reasons I maintain this blog is to keep learning about the craft.

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