I gave my students the assignment to write some advice. I decided to write about what I think it takes to be a writer:
1. There is no one right way to become a writer.
2. Don’t pay attention to anyone else’s rules about how to structure your writing life. Find out what works for you.
3. Trust yourself.
4. Life is the best preparation for writing. So live fully, be curious, and stay open to new experiences.
5. Write because you have to. Write because you need to. Write because you want to.
6. If you don’t have an exceptional memory, take notes or keep a journal. It’s amazing how much you will forget about your life and how much you’ll wish you hadn’t.
7. Carry a notebook and jot down snippets of other people’s conversations. In other words, eavesdrop. It’s the only way to learn the rhythm of dialogue.
8. Read. How you can say you want to be a writer and not read is beyond me. Books are your teachers. Great writers are your teachers. Literature is your teacher. Read books. Cherish books. Study books. If you love a book, read it again and again until you understand exactly how the author achieved what he/she did.
9. The time to write is always now. Not later, now. Put your pen on the page and keep it moving. As Natalie Goldberg says, “Write under all circumstances.”
10.Write what’s in your heart. Write what you can’t say anywhere else.
11.Always look for the underbelly of things.
12.Let it rip. Say what you want to say not what you think you should say.
13.Don’t assume that because you need to write it that other people will want to read it.
14.Just having survived doesn’t make you a good writer.
15.Having a great story to tell doesn’t make you a good writer.
16.Readers will only care about your life (and by extension, your characters) if you make them feel what you felt., see what you saw, hear what you heard. Write vividly. Step inside the scene and describe it from the inside.
17.This will hurt. This pain, this willingness to go back to the hard stuff, is part of the writer’s journey.
18.When you’re writing about a difficult subject, pretend that no one else will ever read it. Even if they will. Lie to yourself. This is essential. You need privacy while you craft words from your own darkness.
19.The only way to get better as a writer is to write. Writing is what makes you a good writer. Lots and lots of writing.
20.Don’t be afraid to write junk for ten years. Good writing springs forth from a stinking compost heap of shitty first drafts.
21.First drafts, even shitty first drafts, are sacred and shouldn’t be cramped by the editor. Let it all hang out in your first draft. It should be raw. It should be wild. It shouldn’t be good. It’s just the place to start from.
22.Read what you write out loud. Hearing the rhythm of your words is an education all in itself.
23.You learn about writing when you rewrite. If you never rewrite, you won’t learn to write.
24.One hundred drafts until you get to the finished product is not unusual.
25.Be ruthless when it comes to cutting away what isn’t essential. As they say in the industry, “Don’t be afraid to kill your babies.” Just because a line is good or brilliant, doesn’t mean it needs to stay in the book.
26.Join a writing group for support, inspiration, camaraderie and a reality check.
28.Keep your pen moving. Don’t stop.