On a writer’s board recently I read a post asking, what advice would you give your younger self?
It’s an interesting question, because my writing path, like, I’m sure, that of many others, would make Frodo’s epic journey in Lord of the Rings look like a stroll to the corner shop.
My path is littered with abandoned manuscripts, tortured prose, short stories that should have been novels, novels that should have been short stories, experimental writing I thought (wrongly) would revolutionise literature, humour works that aren’t funny, pieces written into a corner, stories without an ending, beginnings with nothing else, great endings but no story, and assorted other utter and complete rubbish. And that was only in the last month. I won’t list my earlier mistakes.
Of course every one of those attempts was going to be a success. I knew better than everyone else. I ignored writing books and magazine articles that warned me against many of my choices. You see, I was special. Just because other, inferior writers did not have the ability to surmount those problems did not mean anything to me. I would show them what was possible using my superior skills and magnificent writing abilities. I was going to rewrite the written word and wipe the floor with all those hacks from Shakespeare to Dickens and beyond.
In hindsight, my plan may seem to have been a little ambitious. However, I am now convinced I came to the writing game with exactly the right attitude. I knew best and would prove everyone else wrong.
I did have several major advantages over writers starting out today. There was no internet. I started out in longhand and then used that new-fangled invention, the typewriter. You couldn’t amend a manuscript and give it another file name in those days, you had to write or type the entire thing out again. There were books about writing and a few magazines, but the tips were general and homespun. And. Of course, I knew better, so I didn’t take much notice.
It was a slow process, but I discovered the sobering reality of writing and gradually became the caring, intelligent and modest person you have all come to love.
These days, writers are bombarded with online advice. The 10,000 Things You Should Avoid to Become a Great Writer, What Not To Do When Writing, Don’t Do This, Don’t Do That & Do This Instead. There is a tsunami of advice and while much of it may be correct, the vast bulk of it is useless at best and dangerous at worst to a new writer.
There are many, many things you should and shouldn’t do to become a writer, but the one thing I would absolutely advocate (my opinion, not advice) is to avoid avoiding mistakes. Find out for yourself why you should and shouldn’t do them. It’s the only way to fully understand why. Taking someone else’s word for it means you have missed out on a learning opportunity. Take a leaf out of science and try to prove the giver of advice wrong. You will become a better writer.
I realise this may not suit many people, particularly as the process can and, I think, should take years. All I can say is that it is immensely satisfying to give yourself a broad writing education. One which will carry rewards far beyond any material success and give you a wonderful understanding of language and writing.
So, what advice would I give my younger self? None. Let the bastard suffer like I did.