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A Writer on Writing: The Top Four Things Every Wannabe Needs to Know

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I am an unusual writer. Unusual for many reasons (not the least of which is my ability to sing "Sweet Home Alabama" backwards, complete with subliminal messages about the Underworld of Hades), but for two more than any. First, I've never had writer's block. Ever. Second, I crank out "good" work quickly. The last script I optioned I wrote a first draft in three days, did the rewrites in under two. The last book (about 600 pages when published later in the year), I finished in under a month. Complete with rewrites.

Now, there are thousands upon thousands of books out there that tell you how to write. The Magic of Writing: How to Write and Publish the Book that is Inside You, is one of them you can get at Amazon, along with about to bizkillion other offerings in this genre. And they all have one thing in common:

They all get it wrong.

There are four things, and four things only, that you need to do if you want to "be" a writer. Coincidentally, they are the four things that I have done to never have writer's block and knock off good writing without needing a decade for each book. Here you go, free of charge:

1) Writing is not brain surgery. No one dies if you make a mistake. In fact, some "mistakes" will lead you on wonderful journeys you never would have intentionally thought of. So don't be self-critical. This is the secret to never (and I do mean never) having writer's block: just write. Some of it will be crap. That's fine. You'll fix it up on the rewrite. Don't listen to the voice inside you that insists every sentence and every word has to be "perfect" – there's no such thing.

2) That being said, don't force it. Enjoy it. You have an idea, you don't know where to go with it… well aren't you the lucky one?! Walk around the park, go to the mall, pretend to sleep… let the idea roll around in your brain and enjoy it. You'll be surprised how many things start popping in. "Well, what if she wasn't a fairy, she was a ghost? Or even better, the ghost of a fairy?!" (I smell Nobel prizes here.) Seriously. Part of the fun (one of the best parts) of being a writer is letting an idea percolate until it's just… that… time… Then BOOM! An explosion of creativity. But don't confuse this waiting time with writer's block. It's part of writing: you are planning, the same way an architect plans a house out in general outlines in his head before ever setting pen to paper on a drafting table.

3) This is a biggie: Know your audience! If this is something you are doing for you, and you alone, then most blessed among humans are you. Because what you write will be for you, and since you know what you want to say, you will have the perfect audience. If, however, you want your audience to be bigger — be it merely sharing a story with your friends or be it hopes of writing the great American novel — then you will have to accept a few things. One of them is that you are going to have to change what you write. Doesn't mean what you did was bad, it just means that you're trying to communicate in such a way that as many people as possible understand your intent.

Another thing you'll have to accept is, try as you might, most people won't love your work as much as you would like them to. Sometimes this will be because you haven't acquired the practice and skills yet. But even when you have honed your skills and talents to a razor edge, simple statistics say that most people won't like your work. Think of it: if you can get one person in 1,000 to like your work enough to pay $10 for it, then you've got one of the best-selling first novels of all time, with 6.5 million sold. But it also means that 999 people won't like it that much. And that brings me to my last thing:

4) Finally (and most important): You are what you do. Writers write. You want to be a writer, then write something. Write a blog, write a novel, write a flippin' haiku on a napkin, but write. If you do not do this, then no matter how much you wish, no matter how pure your heart, no matter how thick and lustrous your hair, you are not a writer.

So why are you still reading this thing? Write something, dammit!

P.S. To add to my street cred so you'll take me seriously: I've published dozens of articles on several continents, optioned and rewritten screenplays for Hollywood, and have two books being published this year. I know a little about this stuff. Now seriously – start writing something. ;o)

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About Michaelbrent Collings

  • I completely agree with your four points and I’ve been known to tout their virtues to many a writer. That said, I do think books on writing have useful tips and strategies that writers can incorporate, find useful, or even use to trigger their own solutions. But what you say is true. You don’t need any of them to be a writer.

    I’ve never really experienced what others call writer’s block. I’ve always had an abundance of ideas. I’ve been willing to fail and willing to rewrite. I’ve always enjoyed whatever I’ve written. What would be the point to do otherwise?

    What is most important is to have a passion to write and then feed that roaring beast every day to keep it alive and burning bright.

  • Lynn Voedisch

    You are so right about writer’s block. I was lucky enough to have a newspaper career, which meant there was no TIME for writer’s block. You had to get it done or else. This translated to my fiction writing, so that I can pound out a chapter in a day. None of those stupid daily word-counts that they put in those writing books.
    And I agree that walking around and thinking are all part of the writing process. It’s mental outlining.