I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I mean, I stopped for the toilet and eating and stuff but by and large I’ve always written. My original ambition was to write a novel but because they were intimidatingly long, I opted for short-form stuff like poems and jokes. “I say, I say, I say” is so much easier to finish than, The forest whispered with a menace our hero would come to dread in years to come… Yikes!
This year, fellow writers have recommended several books on creative writing and they have all, in different ways impacted my work massively (none of the books were on grammar or spellchecking before you even think it – typos are my trademark. You should see my tweets). Equally, just getting stuck in and writing on a more fulltime basis has also taught me so much. If you’re a writer, or have been thinking of taking up your quill, this is for you.
This is something I still find impossible to do (well, nearly otherwise you’d be looking at a blank page). I get into a faffing tailspin and feel like unless I’ve done every tiny, niggling job that needs doing, I cannot, under any circumstances start writing.
This can sometimes, literally take days. So, what I started doing is putting things in time, i.e. making writing an entry in my diary. ‘Monday: Write a synopsis for Killer Caterpillars’*. Adding it to my to-do list really helps. Even if I only do an hour’s work on it, at least it now exists in the real world rather than just as a brilliant idea in my head. *this is going to be epic when it’s finished
Another barrier to starting, for me, was the notion that, in my head my idea was perfect and the process of committing it to the page would somehow fuck it up. Overtime though, I’ve learned to ignore this. After all, better to have a slightly crapper version of my idea exist than a near-perfect one that only lives in my bonce. If you’ve encountered this, my advice is-
Just write something
Sometimes I get stuck, wanting to find the perfect way to express a thought. This can bring the whole writing process to a grinding halt. Suddenly, I find myself power-tweeting, facebooking and instagramming my lunch - the writing but a distant memory. My new tactic however, is to just write something, anything. Just get it down, however inarticulate or clumsily it may read because I know at some point, I’ll come back and finesse. This means there’s no longer any need for writer’s block because one can just write any old crap and come back and edit it later. And when you do return with fresh eyes, you’re much better equipped to see what needs changing because you’ll be looking at each problem in isolation rather than the whole, unwieldy mass.
Also, when you first start, some of the first stuff you create will be rubbish. No doubt about it. It can’t all be Hemmingway and Shakespeare. Write it anyway. Sometimes we have to bleed off some creative noise before we get to the good stuff. Like, when we first begin, the chaff comes out but if we push through that, we come to the wheat and of course once you’re done, you can always go back and-
Always edit your work. Reread and reread and then when it’s the best it can possibly be, reread it again! Then send it out to every publisher, literary agent, production company and anyone who will read it, right? Wrong. No, no, no – never, never, never. When you first complete something, you will believe, as I always do, that it is the greatest piece of literature since an ad exec wrote on a scrap of paper, Beanz, Meanz, Heinz. Stop. It may well be brilliant but you are too close to it to tell. You don’t have the objectivity so, just to be on the safe side, set your precious baby aside for as long as you can bear (a minimum of two weeks). When you return to it, you will have what is known as ‘fresh eyes’, industry speak for, the objectivity to see if something’s shit. Now you’ll be able to edit again and be way more ruthless than you would when you first finished. You’ll reread it and say, “I finished act one by turning the hero into a flying tiger? What was I thinking?” Or hopefully, “Thank God I did that flying tiger thing. It totally works!” The important thing is to-
Trust that you are able to create great work. If you don’t believe in you, how can you expect others? (Word wanted me to put a question mark there but it’s not a question). Your work is good. Trusting in what you produce will give you the passion and drive to complete your projects. Then, if you’re good at what you do, become great. If you’re already great, become exceptional. Do this by continuing to-
I’ve learned so much this year from seminars, books, other writers, online videos and of course, hands-on experience and the more I’ve learned the more I can see there is so much more to learn. At the moment, much of what I’ve picked up is not second nature so I’m still referring back to the books I’ve read. I go back to Save The Cat’s 15 story beats, or Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon’s book about the business of screenwriting. I google to make sure I’m format my materials correctly.
As Malcolm Gladwell says, 10,000 hours may be exactly what’s required to reach the top of your game and have excellence be second nature.
Staying open to learning means you’ll continue to grow as an artist and a great way to get a sense of this is by going back to your early writing, you know, that stuff you thought was the most incredible piece of literature in existence. Hopefully, (and most likely), you’ll look at it and go, “Oh my God, it’s crap. I can’t believe I showed that to ANYONE”. Great! It means you’ve improved and you can see the flaws in your earlier efforts.
This is really for people who want to make writing their profession but still applied to a certain degree to hobbyists. I recently attended the class of a very established acting coach and she spoke of working with a very young actor called Brad Pitt. All her students are required to pair up to prepare scenes for her classes and Pitt, she recalled, was a pain in the arse (my words) for his scene study partner because he wanted to rehearse ALL THE TIME.
From what I can gather, this Pitt guy is married now with a tonne of kids and doesn’t really act that much but her point was, practice, hard work and application are the key to success. Talent is a surprisingly small piece of the pie.
I’ve keep a list of the project I’m working on and set deadlines for each part of their processes. Many of the deadlines are arbitrary, based solely on my desire to get the damn thing finished but nonetheless, it drives me to sit down every day and say to myself, OK, my deadline for the first ten pages of Killer Caterpillars is Monday. RE-ordering my sock drawer will have to wait. Just make sure you-
Even if you decide it’s a dead duck, complete with it before moving on – whatever that may look like. What I mean is, consciously stop working on it, don’t just abandon it. And most importantly -
I love writing, on my own but especially with others. A year ago, I sat down with a team of writers to work up some jokes for a TV project. Just us, a white board and our brains. It was the most fun I’ve had with a marker pen (that I can talk about) in a long while. We laughed all afternoon and it really didn’t feel like work. Being creative is a human need and not enough people give themselves permission to find their joy in creative expression. This is why the arts should always be funded by the government by the way, not because it keeps people employed or it’s nice but because it keeps us civilised and elevates our thoughts beyond that of mere survival. This is true both personally and societally. We need creativity and artistry around and within us.
Which takes me back to my original point. If you are looking for a creative outlet-