Taking a break from the end of OOP3+4 to write down something that’s sort of been on my mind. Nothing really triggered this particularly, just felt post-worthy this week.
I get a lot of e-mails from people asking for writing advice. And although most of those are along the reasonable lines of “I’m curious how this thing works,” occasionally I can hear a certain tone behind the question. It’s the tone that I get when asking Kit how to get past a certain Angry Birds level. It’s the tone of “I know there’s a secret to doing this, just tell me what it is so I can skip the stupid and frustrating part of this.”
Now, I have always had a stubborn streak of wanting to figure things out for myself. Usually the most I would ask of someone is “CAN it be done?” If it can be done, then I know it’s possible, and I will go at the problem with renewed enthusiasm. Sometimes, when there is no more to be learned from trying yet another time, I will just give it up as a bad job and not worry about it any more.
Writing is not a video game.
I think that some people (certainly I fell into this trap) believe that since they write every day (you know, e-mails, IMs, online roleplays), and they have stories in their heads, well, there must be a way to get those stories into the words that they are so familiar with. Come on, it’s just typing. We do it with our thumbs now, for god’s sake. How hard can it be?
You also have run more times in your life than you can count. Ready to go run a marathon right now? How about running a marathon five days a week, fifty weeks a year?
I am happy to give pieces of advice out to people on how to compose a story, how to prepare for writing a novel, how to edit a novel, how to develop a character, how to structure a plot, how to write dialogue, how to make your stories furry and your sex scenes engaging and your words pretty. (I am trying to put all of this advice into a handy bookish kind of form.) But I also feel like sometimes I need to pair that advice with another all-purpose piece of advice, which is: this shit takes time.
Or, to take one of my favorite quotes: “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
When I was, oh, six or seven, I took piano lessons. And I never practiced. Hated practicing, because it was boring. To this day, I can bang out the right-hand part to a few Christmas carols and “The Entertainer,” and that’s about it. I never practiced, and I am still at the level I was when I was six. Now, I like practicing writing, because after a certain point, when you’re practicing, you’re actually creating something cool and fun. (Also, reading counts as practicing writing, and I love reading–also another post.) But for a long time, I just wrote for myself and a couple friends. I have portions of two novels that you will never see because they are NOT VERY GOOD and revising them would mean rewriting them and I already have four novel drafts that need to be edited and five more novels I want to write (and this book of writing advice), and well, you get the idea. But here’s the thing: I still wrote those novels. I took some ideas from them and some concepts and brought them forward into other stories I wrote. They are by no means wastes of time. They helped me learn the skills I am still refining today.
The point of all of this is that there is no trick to getting past the level of “beginning writer” (nor, for that matter, is there a trick to jumping past “intermediate writer” or “skilled writer” or “accomplished writer” or “Nobel laureate”–there is always another level ahead of you, but that’s another post). You just have to keep working at it, and one day you will be reading someone else’s beginning-level story and thinking, “wow, there are all kinds of problems with this,” and you’ll realize that you’ve leveled up. Keep collecting advice and putting it into practice, keep working and reading and talking about writing and books with your friends, and you will rack up those points and keep moving forward.
I’m just here to tell you that yes, it can be done.