Any Tips?

I want to be a writer. Any tips?

That’s a real question I often read on internet writers’ groups (where else?).

My initial thoughts were that this was the dumbest question I have ever seen. What are these people thinking? Were they thinking? I also thought it was insulting that someone would have so much ignorance and so little regard for a hugely difficult and challenging art form that they could just decide to do it with a couple of bits of advice to see them on their way.

It not like other dumb questions, like how many words are there in a sentence? Or, what is a paragraph? Also real questions.

The problem with writing is that it looks easy. If you can read and write, why can’t you write an article, a story, a poem, a novel, a play, a screenplay or The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire? They are all just words, right? How hard can it be?

I blame good writers. These inconsiderate wordsmiths make everything look easy and effortless. The reader does not see the blood, sweat, tears and near-insanity caused by the stress of composing that cute sentence you just enjoyed. Readers do not experience the years of practise, experimentation, false starts, abandoned manuscripts, frustration and complexity behind those words. Or all the terrible writing the writer produced along the way.

The reader who enjoys those words merely sees a polished diamond and not the backbreaking mining process. “I could write that,” they say. And the logical continuation of that thought is, “if I could write that, then I could be a writer.”

Now, writing is such a noble pursuit, anything that inspires someone to take up the keyboard is good. After all, anyone CAN write. There is no need for a degree or formal tuition or a guru, though no doubt some guidance may be helpful. Writing can be completely self-taught and ultimately the writer has to decide if he or she is good enough to work at the level of their ambition.

Writing is a lonely highway that weaves through mountains and valleys, deserts and frozen tundra and it has no short cuts. There are lots of side roads that look like short cuts, but they are dead ends and sometimes you have to go to the end of them to realise this. But each time you drive back and rejoin the highway, your writing has improved in a far more profound way than if you had avoided the turn-off.

But back to the opening question. I realised after thinking about it that it’s not a dumb question at all. The first part – I want to be a writer – is all that’s important. If that urge is real and compelling, it is enough to begin the quest and everything required to achieve that goal is already ‘out there’ and freely available, sitting ready to be discovered. And the writer needs to be the one who discovers it. No amount of teaching, advice, hints or instruction can substitute for the overwhelming frustration and sheer joy experienced during the writer’s journey.

And that’s why, when someone poses the question: I want to be a writer. Any tips? I do them the biggest and kindest service I can by replying, no.

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