Whenever I want to learn more on writing and I don’t feel like investing in yet another random stranger ready to sell me all his secrets, I do what every author should do: I read.
Looking for the advice of those who made it before me, I found a lot of inspiring stories. Now I want to share my personal top 5 tips, the one that in my experience have proven to be the most useful.
The first time I read this I had to smile because it was so me. The need to find a routine may seem obvious, but for me turned out to be very important for more than one reason. I am a procrastinator, very skilled at wasting time, but it’s not just that. At a certain point I realized that one of the things that kept me from writing was my fear to fail. I found a thousand excuses and postponed until the day ended, fuelling my frustration indefinitely, but the truth was that I just didn’t have the guts to sit at my desk and face the possibility (very concrete for every writer) of getting stuck, of not having good ideas, of reading what I wrote so enthusiastically the day before just to find out it was worth nothing.
Now I “waste the morning”, or a few hours, or even a day, doing tasks that have nothing to do with writing, and use that time to regain focus, to calm my nerves, or even to talk myself into stop being a crybaby and get to work. Eventually I run out of tasks and when I finally reach my desk I feel recharged, oddly accomplished (because hey, those shelves really needed dusting), and ready to write.
Also, as the quote goes on, “technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.”
I used to think that technique, style and form were of paramount importance. At least in part I still think so, but not when they come at the expense of content. This is as true for novels as it is for articles, blog entries and so on. Finding the right balance is important, because technique matters, but that’s not what people looks for. Readers want to be informed, or entertained, and authors want to be remembered, or even quoted. At the end of the day if I have to choose I prefer to invest my time on quality content and be a little more forgiving of a technique that may not be entirely flawless.
Perfection, after all, is an utopistic concept.
This goes hand in hand with the previous one, in a way. It’s fine to obsess a little over details, but to know when enough is enough is a vital skill for an author. Overthinking never helps anyway, actually it can do more harm than good, and it certainly takes away the spontaneity of what we write.
Sooner or later we need to feed our creature to the readers or we’ll miss all the fun, including the one thing that makes us grow the most: any possible (constructive) criticism.
I dream of a cottage in the mountains, and of the song of the wind in the trees. I dream of a steaming cup of chocolate on my wooden desk, and of my cat purring on his pillow, as I write my next Pulitzer Prize. The truth is that I live in a seven story concrete building in the middle of a verybusy town, the traffic is crazy, the family next door is as noisy as it can be, and the phone rings at the least opportune moments. Also, I got interrupted on a regular basis by my own family, but what can I do? This is my life and if I waited for absolute silence I’d publish these few lines in 2054.
And in case you were wondering I don’t even own a cat.
The amount of time and effort I spent reading guides, tutorials, manuals... I lost count years ago. Was it wasted? I don’t think so, I am not so arrogant as to think that studying is useless. Quite the contrary, actually: studying is fundamental, and learning from others is exactly what inspired me to write this article, but it’s just the beginning, a bit like learning to walk before you run.
There are rules that we have to create for ourselves, though, that are neither found in books, nor can be ingrained in our minds by other people or they just won’t work. So where those come from? I think we have to discover them for ourselves, with time and experience, and a lot of practice and patience. Also, as far as rules are involved, flexibility is important too. It may look counterintuitive, but we change, a lot, and whatever worked like a charm five years ago may be an obstacle today.