an amateur’s guide to better writing

typewriters are cool again, right?

typewriters are cool again, right?

Anyone who’s ever written a letter to their grandma can give you advice on what helps them write, so I figure, why not me? (I beg you not to answer that). I’ve been writing semi-consistently for a while now and all I can really attest to is what helps me. But you know what? It might help you, too. Or it might send your pathetic writing career into an unstoppable tail spin. Either way something will happen.

1. Stop thinking about writing and just fucking write.

We can spin our minds into a cluster-fuck of half-ideas and find ourselves in an inescapable creative purgatory, or we can check our self-deprecating baggage at the door and get busy. When we think too much about a given topic or concept or idea it can prevent us from doing anything in fear of the piece not stacking up to the pedestal we’ve placed it on.

Here’s the thing: you’re idea is not original. It has been done before and probably been done better than you. In all likelihood, no one is going to want to read it. The lesson? Who the fuck cares! Write anyway and learn more from your failures than from your successes.

Just start writing.

If it sucks, un-suck it. If it’s incoherent, edit it and make it better. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get your little sweaty fingers and clickity clack them on some keys. In fact, stop reading this article and go type for 15 minutes. Force yourself. DO IT NOW! (but come back when you’re done).

2. Be creative when you aren’t being creative.

Have you ever been in a meeting at your boring, creativity-sucking job and found yourself sketching pictures of Godzilla breathing fire all over the respected members of the board of trustees? Yeah, me neither. But I do doodle (heh) often while being forced into life’s inevitable banality.

The more creative work you do – no matter how silly or mundane – has a profound effect on crashing through writer’s block. The muse is always there, sometimes you just have to wake her up. The only way to do this is to create. She responds to little else.

3. Be a reader

Don’t be above pulling inspiration. There’s a vast plethora of good shit out there written by people who’ve been doing it way longer than you and are doing it way better than you. This is their gift to you. Learn from it.

Nothing helps your own writing quite like seeing it done by someone else. Not only will you learn how to properly use the words you’ve been incorrectly wielding since the 5th grade, you’ll gain a feel for what it is to have a unique style, voice and cadence.

Next time someone asks you if you are a reader, your answer should be, “reader? I hardly even know her!”  Then, after a laugh, it should be, “yes, of course I am.”

4. Be a man…or a woman

Really, just be unapologetic about being yourself. Trying to please someone else or be someone else or writing to a specific audience in hopes of their approval will leave your words coming off as fake. Your readers may not be as smart as you (or as smart as you think you are) but everyone on this planet knows bullshit when they smell it. Staying true to what you know and who you are adds accessibility and vulnerability to your writing, making it easier for people to relate to. You can’t please everyone, so stop trying.

Admittedly, I find this advice to be the toughest to accept myself. I constantly find myself projecting what others will think about what I write as I’m putting a piece together. It’s a sticking point that sometimes prevents me from writing for months at a time. As soon as I get out of my own head, it’s a matter of simply talking to myself. In fact, I could have easily called this post “Words of advice to myself about writing.”

5. Do  and see everything

Harriet the Spy said it the best: “If you want to be a good writer, you have to see everything.” Yes, I’ve seen Harriet the Spy. Yes, I’ve seen Harriet the Spy in the last year. Can we move on to the point now?

Young Harriet is wisely alluding to the fact that the more you see and the more you do, the more you have to write about. Not only that, but in order to properly capture the subject of your words, you must view it from every angle to ensure you’re taking the best one. It helps to have an insatiable case of FOMA (‘fear of missing out’ to you non-millennials).

Do shit. Do it if you’re young. Do it if you’re old. Just do it (don’t sue me, Nike).

6. Find a happy place

Whether you thrive in the solemn serenity of a secluded mountain cabin like Henry David Thoreau or the drunk, doped-up urban daze like Hank Moody, finding a place that opens your mind is key to productivity. I’m not suggesting that environmental conditions must be perfect to induce creativity, but having a comfortable space to inspire you on a regular basis goes a long way to avoiding blocks.

7. Fail. Over and over again

Famed American author Ray Bradbury once said, “you have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”

I talked earlier about learning from your failures, but it’s importance requires reiteration. Accepting rejection is a concept that can be applied to all walks of life, but resonates more with the pursuit of a creative profession. When you create something from nothing it will inevitably contain within it a large part of yourself, so any negative feedback you receive will be perceived as an attack on your character.

Don’t take criticism personally. It could be the hardest thing you’ll have to learn, but once you do you will no longer be shackled by the opinions of internet trolls and Ivy League book critic fucks. Try to weed out the constructive comments from the incendiary ones, and apply them to the next project. No one is out to get you. They are either doing their job or they are an asshole. Only you have the power to persevere in the face of rejection.

. . . . .

I hope some of these help you cope with being creatively stuck. If not, you can’t say I didn’t try. Feel free to let me know what helps you in the comments below!

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