Three lessons from writing

Right, one more post about writing before you all get bored (too late! – Ed.) and I go back to normal things.

While writing most recently, I think I have gleaned three lessons.

1) You can’t write a concerto because you can hum

You can hum, you can probably sing to some degree, you could even – if stretched – come up with a tune that you’re pretty sure is original. But you wouldn’t expect to sit down at a piano and write a whole concerto without stopping and going back. You probably can’t even visualise which keys play which notes on the piano – I don’t remember. You have an idea of what the song is, but as you press the keys you are hearing a dum, dah, dam, blunk. And then you find the correct note and you go on. But you couldn’t expect to write a whole song like this. You couldn’t work it out at the piano as you went along. It would be much better to hum the tune into a tape recorder, then later work out what each of the notes you hummed were, and finally figure out how to play your tune. If you kept stopping all the time you’d lose all of your rhythm. So stop imagining that when you start writing what will come flowing out of you will be ready for print. Stop thinking that it’s a good idea to pause every five seconds and correct yourself. You have a creative brain and an ordered brain and they don’t work well at the same time. Write then edit. Don’t do both at the same time or you will be so discouraged you will stop.

2) What to do when you see all those rubbish books out there and think if they can do it, why can’t I?

They don’t know what good writing is – do they? Of course they don’t! So how did they get a novel published when you’ve been so sorely overlooked?

Well, for a start, they wrote one.

It’s actually easier if you don’t know what good writing is, because you aren’t constantly stopping yourself from writing a sentence, just because it might not be in the correct tense. Separating the writing from the editing is crucial. It is the law. Do it!

3) If it was fun, easy and didn’t take long it wouldn’t be something you’d want to do

The good news is that it’s really, really hard. I can’t imagine, or presume to know, how hard it is to do well. I’m not there – yet. It must be close to impossible.

And that’s great because a big part of wanting to do it, is because you want to be able to say you’ve done it. And the only reason you think it’s a good thing to say that you’ve done, is because it’s a rare and hard thing to do. The good news is, it is hard. Because otherwise, it wouldn’t be something worth doing.

4) I thought there wasn’t supposed to be a 4?

So start? Please. The most clichéd thing in the world is to say, “what’s your five-year plan for this”? People have a beer and talk to a friend, or they chat over dinner with their partners, and they talk about what it is they hope to be doing in five years’ time. But you know why those things are things you hope to happen in five years and not… like… tomorrow? It’s because you can’t do them in a single day. So if you don’t work on them during the five years, you won’t ever get there.

Ten years ago I wanted to be a novelist in five years. It was only nine years later that I started actually really working on my novel in a way that would mean I would ever finish it. If anything of this is ringing true – and you actually want to get to that place. Please, please, just start.

5 thoughts on “Three lessons from writing

  1. Kat says:

    'You have a creative brain and an ordered brain and they don't work well at the same time.' I have been very ordered in my evening class I think. Slow, and methodical, and 'I must do this the right way', rather than other times when I have been just doing stuff and seeing what happens. It might be because I haven't had enough outlet for stuff like this, so I want to make the small amount of new art / craft stuff I do count more, because it's a rarity. So I think I need to make it more common and just do stuff. You know, like start more often.

  2. Christine says:

    "Please, please, just start."I may blow this up big and pin it on my wall. Although that is still procrastinating and not actually starting, isn't it?Also, I am so awful with tenses, it drives me crazy.

  3. Alex Andronov says:

    "Although that is still procrastinating and not actually starting, isn't it?"Yes. You could start and then as a reward put the sign on the wall?

  4. Alex Andronov says:

    @Kat I think stopping it from being a rarity is another key thing to it all. It allows you to trust that you'll be back to fix it.

  5. Matt says:

    I think starting is always the hardest part. I actually bought a book on procrastination and I still haven't started reading it properly (I'm not joking). And I've just remembered our conversation from Saturday. I best go buy that guitar!

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