In light of the fact that my first book is set to be available tomorrow, I offer the following humiliating post in the hope of encouraging young writers–or any writer really–to keep writing.
It gets better.
As with most things in life, some aspects of marriage are bittersweet. Hypothetically, your mother might, for instance, bring a box of your high school papers to your new home, cleaning out her attic and filling up yours.
And you might, presumably, find things you’ve written that really should never have seen the light of day and really shouldn’t ever again.
If you were to have written them, I mean.
Example 1: Around age 10, I started, I mean, A FRIEND started a little newspaper, printed on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, called The Toodleloo Times. It had a vast circulation . . . right around 25 subscribers. It was mostly plagiarized, poorly written and a hot mess when it came to design. And it was published for far, far too long before one April 1 edition noted its closure and sale to the Hearst Corporation, who also owns the Wall Street Journal, never to be seen or heard from again. We hope. At least, that’s what my friend told me.
Example 2: The following. I can’t, I mean, my friend can’t believe this actually happened. If I, I mean, she could die of mortification, we both would.
(The good news is that I warned my teacher I wasn’t a poet. The bad news is that I was right . . . on a host of levels.)
That one awful poem–theology, writing, rhyming, ok, everything–exhibits both the joy and challenge of writing. In the moment, you’re confident you’re writing literary genius. A year later, ten years later, five seconds later, it is painfully obvious you soooo were not.
So for all you wannabe authors and writers, editors and copy editors out there, frantically scribbling down poems and vaguebooking about how you desperately long to pen a series of novellas, take a lesson in what not to do from the person whose first ten years of writing were abysmal.
Hey, there’s hope for all of us.
3 Tips for Not Writing Piles of Hooey
1) You can tame your muse.
Write every day. This myth that you have to wait for some so-called moment or feeling or mood to come upon you is a pile of hooey. Write every day, and as you do, you’ll find it gets easier . . . and that your writing gets better. Eventually your stream of consciousness will morph and change into words that turn into thoughtful, helpful topics.
2) A young lady emailed me recently and asked, “I want to be a writer. What do I write about and how do I get published?”
To quote Dr. Masaki, “Is wrong question.” Before you can be a writer, you must work at being a thinker. If Nathaniel Hawthorne was right–“Easy reading is damn hard writing”–and he was, then “Damn hard writing is freaking hard thinking.” Writing isn’t just spilling your guts. It’s processing an entire thought and all its twists and curves so that your reader doesn’t have to.
Then, take the initiative. Be proactive. Start researching, calling, emailing. Look at what newspapers and magazines are looking for in content. Find ways to tie your writing into current events. Start pitching your stuff to editors. Take their feedback. Don’t expect to be published overnight. And if you start to get discouraged, take a break. Take a breath. Focus on the what and who, and try again.
3) Editing is more than catching typos and misplaced commas.
There are undoubtedly errors in this post. I usually read something three times to catch editing errors, but something will always slip past. To be a good editor, though, doesn’t just mean that you catch misspellings. It means substantive editing: for clarity, for excess, for split infinitives, for em dashes, all of it.
Most writers try the shotgun approach: I’ll write about 22 different topics, and maybe the people reading will understanding twelve of them and come away remembering one.
Go for one idea, two or three different methods of getting at it, and a hundred ways of driving that one idea home.
Most, ok, all of my early writing is painful. There’s the note I wrote my mom as a little girl complaining about my sister, my high school paper on gun control, my attempt in college to write an essay on the entire history of Christianity, the treatise on Israel and Palestine at age 17, the one on hog confinements that wound my college rhetoric teacher up so much I thought she’d pass out.
But it does get better.
Keep reading. Keep thinking. Keep processing.
And keep writing.