Following is a post from the way-back archives of my home site. Like everyone else here, I'm routinely pelted with requests for my advice to aspiring writers. Halfway through writing my third novel, I've finally got the stones to confess to the underlying truth, that I always feel out of depth, like a novice, and that I'm learning and making it up as I go. If I ever get to the comfort zone where I don't feel that way, I might as well stop writing, because nothing good comes from that zone. I'm a big believer in being out of one's depth, at least artistically. That said, below is a compilation of the sagely bits of dispensed over the years, at least those that I still abide by....
1) Quit reading what you like.
Once you've identified your sphere of influence, step out of it. Read books by members of the opposite sex, or books by writers with a different sexual preference than yours. Read books which have been translated, or books by writers with ethnicities, nationalities, and political beliefs different from your own. If you don't venture forth from your sphere of influence, that sphere becomes an air-tight bubble and suffocates your work.
2) Stop reading about writing.
No book on how to write will ever take the place of reading and writing. Committing to paper a single page every day for a year will produce more, and teach you more, than any instruction book ever will. In my experience, all I was ever looking for in those how-to books was some magic word or phrase which would make the ideas and words flow without effort. Once I admitted that such a word or phrase didn't exist, I stopped reading about writing and started writing.
There are some exceptions to the above. When it comes to notes on the craft, I always prefer to hear writers speak in their own words. The Paris Review has stellar interviews with writers, most of which are anthologized. They go way back, those interviews, and the out-of-print collections should be at any decent library. My favorite quote from those was from Jim Harrison who, when asked for advice for aspiring writers, said "Start at page one and write like a motherfucker." Stephen King's book, On Writing, is very good, as is Robert McKee's Story. Before any of those, make sure you've got a good dictionary (I use Merriam-Webster's Collegiate) and a copy of The Elements of Style.
3) Don't wait until you’re inspired to write. Write to become inspired.
Find your own method. If your read enough of books and articles about writing, they start to conflict. One says to work in the morning while your brain is fresh, another says to work in the evening. They're all wrong. Every writer's method is as unique as his or her own work, and you have to find your own-- the time of day, longhand vs. typewriter vs. word processor, the sequence of rewrites, etc. Half of writing is finding what method works for you.
4) Leave your desk where you found it.
You can write no matter where you live. People fall in and out of love, have children, taste death, lose jobs, find happiness, fail and succeed everywhere. If you can't see those things in suburbia, you're not going to see them in the asphalt jungle or the coffeehouse, either. Live where you wish, for whatever reasons you choose, but ditch the notion that moving to New York/Seattle/London/Tokyo will make you a better writer.
5) Be honest.
Attempting to create "transgressive" (how I so loathe that word) fiction for its own sake is no different than writing sappy fluff for a quick buck. Both are aiming for an equally easy and shallow emotional response, be it shock and disgust, or cheap sentimentality. You're risking much more by showing a sweet side of yourself- or an unexpected dark corner of your brain- by being honest than with a facile attempt at being dark and dangerous.
6) Ignore flattery.
If you're seeking criticism, via a workshop or through individuals, then seek criticism and not approval. If you need someone's blessing to keep working, then you're not going to be able to stomach anonymous publisher rejections and negative reviews.
7) Do your editor's job.
When your workshop stops finding flaws with your work and you've just begun, consider yourself graduated. Be your own worst critic.
8) Know that you might fail.
Ignore what decades of American pop culture would have us believe. Sometimes dreams don't come true, and "sometimes" in this case means more often than not. Years of effort might yield nothing, not even a single publication in a small magazine. If you know this to be true and yet your need to write outweighs this very real possibility, then you can celebrate every milestone as being wholly and completely your own.
9) Write every story as though it's your last.
I have a note above my workspace which reads, "This is the last book you will ever write." This is not some clever motivational quote. It's something I truly believe. It was as true for my first book as for my second and, as far as I'm concerned, the novel I just started will be my last. Forget about a career in writing and focus on your task at hand, holding nothing back. When you make a cut from a story, don't think about whether you can recycle a particular idea, turn of phrase or passage in some future work. You might be happily wrong but, until you know otherwise, there is no future. There is only the story at hand and your last-chance, deathbed-stab at writing it down.
The dude abides,
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