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The author Johnathan Franzen has come under fire for some of his top tips for writers:
So I thought, why don’t I write some too? Then I can come under fire just like him. And here they are:
- If you want to be a writer, write. Michael Caine used to say that people would come up to him and gush about his life. They’d say how great it must be to be an actor and how they’d love to do it – and he’d think, no you don’t. If you wanted to act you’d be doing it; you’d be out there in rep or am-dram; you’d be reciting in pubs or on street corners; you’d be doing monologues in open mic slots, whatever it takes. And I think the same thing when people say to me how great it must be to be a writer; how interesting and exciting*; I think, if you really wanted to be a writer you’d be doing it. You’d be keeping a diary and a blog; you’d be writing little snippets and sending them into newspapers; you’d be… well, you get the picture. If you want to be a writer, write.
- Persevere. Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky it will take more perseverance than you ever dreamed possible. Imagine climbing Everest and then K2 and then coming down again and finding that nobody cares, then running a couple of marathons and swimming the channel. That’s what it feels like – and if you don’t want to bother, you don’t want it enough
- The 10,000 hours thing is true but crap. It may well take 10,000 hours to be expert at something (I haven’t counted) but the point is, why the hell would you put all that effort in for something you’re not utterly passionate about? If you ever had piano lessons as a kid and hated them you’ll know what it’s like to spend time doing something you don’t enjoy. So don’t worry about the hours because if you’re driven to do it you’ll rack them up and if you’re not, why would you bother?
- Finding your own voice is difficult. Miles Davies said ‘Man, it takes a long time to sound like yourself’ and that’s just as true in writing as it is in any other art form. For years I had to read authors who were completely different from me because otherwise I just ended up sounding like them. Imitation is not a bad place to start but it’s a bad place to end up. Finding your voice takes time: lots of time.
- Find your own routine. If you have lots of time to write your problem is going to be discipline. It took me ages but nowadays I get to my desk by nine and after lots of experimentation I’ve ended up with a routine that is roughly nine-to-five, Monday to Friday. I don’t work at the weekend which means I get a good break; I also don’t work in the evening. But that might not be right for you; you just have to figure it out
- You may be one of those people who can hold down a job and write in your spare time: I’m not. I never have been, so I can’t advise you about how to do that.
- Be like Pooh. Don’t be like Eeyore who interrupts the flow (such as it is) of his verse with comments and criticisms; be like Pooh. Pooh listens to the Forest and the river; he lets things come to him (unlike Rabbit who always goes and fetches them). Pooh’s verse flows because he waits for it to come. Be like Pooh.
- Don’t stay like Pooh. Pooh is in a state of innocence (in the Blakeian sense) but we must live in the adult word. And in the adult world there is Work. You must work at things once they’ve come; hammer your words into shape as a carpenter works with wood or a potter with clay. Michaelangelo may have been right when he said that the sculpture was already there in the clay, but it’s the artist who has to find it and give it shape.
- Know when you’ve nailed it. You’ll know when you’ve nailed it because there’s a sense of rightness, a feeling of deep satisfaction. This has nothing to do with orthodoxy and everything to do with art.
- Don’t read lists of top tips. This list will self-destruct in ten seconds. Ten… nine… eight…
* this never happens