The Only Bit of Writing Advice You’ll Need in 2016
If you’re anything like me then every time an interview with an author is posted, you’ll find yourself scanning it for information about their writing process. It doesn’t matter whether they write literary classics or dinosaur erotica, I’ve long held a fascination with the way other writers work. Are they plotters or planners? Do they go through a lot of drafts or do they take their time and write steady solid prose first time out?
Over the years I’ve amassed countless books on the art of writing, and poured over them looking for hints and tips. Even after getting published, I am still fascinated by the writing process. Now I’d be unkind to my former self to say that I was looking for some quick fix. I’ve always understood writing is hard work. But I viewed the process of writing a novel as a monstrous task, a clockwork of a thousand moving parts all of which must come together in perfect unison. How you manage all those things without them all crashing down around you was always a constant wonder.
But if I made one mistake in all those years…it was that I put a little too much faith in all those ideas. If someone was a successful writer with a process that worked, I saw it as my job to mould myself to match their model. And of course, I found myself getting a little frustrated when I didn’t get the same results. What was I doing wrong?
Here’s the thing. We’re all different. The fact that something might work for one person and not another isn’t just down to taste and effort, it’s due to the fact that our brains and creative processes are often wired differently. The act of writing a novel is akin to taking a journey. We start out at location A and head to destination B. The route we take largely doesn’t matter. Yes, we want to ultimately be as efficient as we possibly can, but the important thing is to reach our destination. And that’s what we often forget.
We want to get it done.
This might seem like meaningless advice but the problem is that we see this statement and take it as an insult. Of course we want to get it done. This is why we’ve been researching process in the first place! But if you look at it a little deeper you’ll see there’s more to the comment than a throwaway piece of advice. It’s an admission that there’s no easy way to complete a novel, that sometimes you have no choice but to knuckle down and bulldoze your way through a section, knowing full well it’s terrible and will need to be entirely rewritten. It’s highlighting that pretty, organised process is all well and good, but sometimes even the best laid plans go wrong and you need to slug it through. It’s the realisation that different sections of your novel may need different approaches and that you may not realise what approach is needed until after you’ve written your first draft.
Your research on process isn’t wasted though. If you focus on getting the work done first and foremost, you’ll find that all those articles you’ve read on how other writer’s work will come into play. You’ll deploy them as and when needed. You’ll learn which work for you, how you can tweak others to make them work. They’ll help you become more efficient as a writer, they’ll aid you in times when you get stuck.
The act of writing a novel might be akin to a journey but it’s a journey across a battlefield. No-one’s going to moan about a bumpy ride when you have shells exploding either side of you. All that matters is reaching the destination. So it is with writing. Getting the work done, no matter how badly or inefficient, trumps any process, no matter how revolutionary it might be.
Get it done should be your mantra for 2016. If you focus on that, you’ll be in a far better position by the end of the year than you would be otherwise.
And as for those articles on writing process? Should you listen to those people who say they are nothing but a waste of time? Only you can answer that. But what I will say is if you can learn to take other’s processes, modify and process-bash it into something that works for your writing then it’ll aid you in your aim. However, if you want to put off writing until you’ve got all your processes in place and working nicely, then you’ll never cross the battlefield.
Yes, you might feel ill prepared, and you may certainly feel at times that you have no idea what you are doing. But you know what? All writers have moments like that. And what matters isn’t that you weren’t prepared, it’s that you found a way through, no matter how messy. Just don’t let it get in the way of getting the actual stuff done.