Okay, I lied.
I’m totally not going to offer five no-fail tips for writing.
I see so much writing-related click-bait on social media. At first it made me laugh. Then it made me angry. Now it just makes me sad. (Or maybe hangry—as I write this, it’s getting close to dinnertime, and my stomach is growling.)
I see things like:
- 7 Ways to Write a Screenplay
- 7 Tips for How to Write Like Ernest Hemingway
- How to Write a WordPress Post
- How to Write the Perfect Villain
- How to Write More in Less Time
- How to Make More Time to Write
- How to Keep Writing When You Want to Quit
Usually these attention-grabbing headlines are little more than teasers (sort of like the headline that got you here). They often lead to various links offered by purported writing experts to buy their online video about how your-writing-too-can-be-so-much-better–if-only-you-follow-their-secret-formula, which is available only through this video you have to pay for or in this newsletter you have to subscribe to or in this workshop you have to attend.
Seems to me that most of this stuff is designed to get the people who offer those videos and newsletters and workshops more money, more followers, more attention—and maybe not so much about really trying to find a way to help you become a better writer.
Maybe that’s because there really is no secret sauce when it comes to writing.
Well, maybe there is: practice
And here’s a bonus secret: read
I’ve edited hundreds of manuscripts, and it seems to me that the biggest problem with the worst of the worst is that those who have written them appear to have not read much. They’ve not picked up any insight from reading all sorts of things in their chosen genre. They’ve not picked up the basics about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They’ve not picked up anything about tone, flow, voice, language, or dialogue. They’ve not picked up anything about narrative arc or character development. And, perhaps worst of all, they’ve seemingly not picked up anything from previous rounds of edits they’ve gone through. They just keep making the same mistakes.
What’s the secret to better writing? Keep writing. And keep reading.
Want another secret? Maybe don’t listen to too many other people who try to tell you how you should go about writing.
The fact is that each of us approaches our work in different ways. Some of us are regimented, dedicating two hours every day at the crack of dawn to write. Some of us steal ten minutes here, a half hour there, maybe a couple hours on the weekend. Some of us ponder scenes or chapters for days before writing them down. Some of us just write and write and write and then go through a rigorous edit, ruthlessly deleting and rewriting until we’re even remotely happy with a finished first draft.
Whatever works for you is what works for you.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try out some of those however-many ways to be a better writer. Perhaps some of those simple tips will work for you. But don’t beat yourself up if those so-called secrets don’t do anything for you. We shouldn’t be shaming each other into making ourselves better writers. In fact, I often wonder how many of the people who offer all these fabulous tips and ways and secrets really follow all the advice they so happily dole-out to other writers.
The only truly no-fail route to writing—and finishing!—your manuscript is to actually write your manuscript, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. Bit by bit you’ll progress until you finally have a first draft.
And then you get to go through all the editing and rewriting—at least once, maybe twice, or even three or four or five times.
Writing a manuscript isn’t something that can be just done. It takes time. It takes dedication. It takes creativity. It takes desire. It takes putting down the words, bit by bit by bit.
Only you can do that. No one else can really do it for you. You have to figure out what works for you. You need not necessarily keep trying out tips offered by so-called experts. You just have to do it.
So go do it!
July 18, 2017
“There is nothing to writing: All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”