Opinion: Tips For Avoiding Tips For Writers
They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. That seems a solid motto – you can provide scene, opportunity and motivation, but the last push of any action needs to be undertaken voluntarily if it is to be authentic. You can bring your horse to the river but you can’t make him gargle, you can buy a dowdy friend a Brown Thomas gift voucher but you can’t turn her into something approximating decent, you can’t make George Michael love you if he doooon’t.
And yet we’re constantly trying to make mortals into writers.
Has there ever been a more misunderstood vocation? Here we mean writing as a compulsion rather than a weekend jaunt through the thesaurus. Writing as character fabric, rather than an addictive little pastime. Writing is not for everyone. It’s not even for a fraction of everyone. And yet there’s a whole perplexing movement out there which runs on the notion that writing is a skill which can be taught, a muscle which can be exercised, a club to which everyone’s entitled to membership. Creative writing classes, writers’ circles, degrees and diplomas and workshops and programmes.
And tips. God, creative writing tips. If you need tips on how to be a writer (this is not the same as tips on how to get published, by the way, for such pointers are very necessary), then you are not a writer at all. Writing is not a costume you throw on in your spare time, and a writer is not something you become after you finish college. It’s something you just… are. No amount of tips or tricks successfully manoeuvred will make you a writer. You may as well give tips for aeronautical engineering or tips on how to become Mexican.
Tips for writers tend to cover the following:
Write Every Day
You can write the Bible between now and lunchtime and you still won’t be a writer if you weren’t one before. It’s no more quantity that makes you brilliant than it is the colour of your eyes or how many pairs of pants you own. This sails perilously close to a Malcolm Gladwell mantra – if you write for 10,000 hours, you will become Ernest Hemingway. This is untrue. If you’re a writer, you will be certainly a good deal better after writing for 10,000 hours (and also shagged tired), but if you’re not a writer, you can scribble your intentions in the sands of time and they’ll still be full of exclamation marks and disjointed, florid twaddle.
Find A Place To Write
Ah, one’s own literary sanctuary. Hide yourself away and chew pencils while staring at inspiring vistas, by all means, but don’t kid yourself that you’re a writer while you’re at it. Writers don’t take Writing somewhere quiet and romantic where they can tangle themselves up in it and feel deep as a stoned teenager. Writers run from writing. No one wants Writing on their back; it’s a heavy fuck of a monkey and it’ll do nothing but spit in your ear that you’re useless and clunky and should probably just drown yourself before a baying mob comes along and does it for you. If you’re a writer, what you need is to find a place not to write. And good luck with that, because such a place doesn’t exist. You can landslide yourself and that bastard will find you, asking you what the hell you’re doing under all those rocks when there’s a million words in your mindsack you’re supposed to be diligently birthing.
Edit, Edit, Edit
You don’t need to tell a writer to edit. A writer will edit despite themselves, because they hate everything they write and it looks awful and it makes no sense and the metaphors are all wrong and life is a harsh mistress. If you have to be told to edit your work – if you get to the end of your day’s allocated writing time in your little literary sanctuary with the damn vista and say to yourself, Well, that looks good! – then you’re no writer. You’re a happy soul with a meaningful existence and you should go die in a ditch.
Use Good Grammar, Punctuate Properly, Spell Correctly
Has it come to this? If you don’t know how to use the tools, then don’t use the tools. If you don’t know the difference between its and it’s, then you’re no more a writer than you are a pine marten. If you are a pine marten, you’re forgiven for not knowing the difference between its and it’s, but you still can’t be a writer.
Write Even If You Have Nothing To Write
Staring at a blank page? No matter! Write anyway because writing is a muscle and you don’t want to get atrophy.
Write anyway? Write what? Writing cannot be turned on and off like a tap at allocated hours in your little literary sanctuary with the damn vista where you don’t do any editing. Writing something pointless and empty will not make you a better writer if you’re already a writer. It’ll make you feel like shit and you’ll end up throwing your laptop at the wall. If you’re not already a writer, and you’re probably not, then write any old shit down to get your allocated hours in, because that’s all you do anyway.
Join A Writers’ Group
Good. God. The last thing a writer needs is another one. The last thing a bad writer needs is a circle-jerk. Which leads us to…
Writers will pursue feedback just to shut the monkey up, but it doesn’t really matter what feedback you get if you’re not already practically perfect. This is part of the whole leading-the-horse-to-water thing. It’s not that non-writers will ignore negative feedback, although a shocking amount of them do because nothing hurts quite like being told you weren’t born to do this sideline you just took up six weeks ago. No, it’s impossible to tell someone who can’t write what they’re doing wrong if they can’t already see it themselves.
And this is the crux of the matter. All writers know they’re terrible. They know how awful their prose is and it kills them. They can’t get away from it. They lie awake at night wondering why the Muses haven’t struck them down yet for being so utterly heinous. And non-writers don’t get that at all. You cannot explain to a bad writer what makes them so bad, because they’ll never see it. The metre that stutters and lurches. The badly chosen phrases that they’ve read and fallen for elsewhere, splattered throughout their prose like olives on a birthday cake. The misused words, the repetition, the repetition and the misuse of words that’s literally the worst thing ever. And above all else, the dearth of what it is that makes a piece of writing beautiful. The magic and the glamour of using language to save something true and raw and real.
You can lead a man to Microsoft Word but you can’t make him a writer. And while it’s tempting to concede that would-bes, wannabes and has-beens are more than welcome to bolster and pontificate at each other all year long if it makes them happy, alongside that happy amnesty, the art of writing is being cheapened by day-trippers and Sunday Scribblers.
Tips for Writers might be good for a giggle, but what they really do is help convince a modern world becoming ever more dumb that writing is easy and that there is no further need of literary standards. This is why we now have appalling monstrosities like Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James. Not everyone has a novel in them, damn it.