For me, writing has always been a way of life. For as long as I can clearly remember, I have written stories and, as a result, I have watched the pile of finished work grow higher and higher on my closet shelf.
Today that pile is a messy, leaning stack containing everything from a copy of my latest work to a four-page long masterpiece I created in 1999, complete with crayon illustrations. The collection serves as a reminder to me of just how much time I have invested in writing. Even before I really understood what writing was or what it could do, I loved it.
In the days since those early stories, I have learned to see the true value writing holds. It can be therapeutic, fulfilling, challenging, etc. But overall I have found writing to be personally rewarding.
I got to thinking lately about what exactly it is that makes me write. A natural inclination? Maybe. A chemical imbalance? Perhaps. A general preference for the company of fictional people? Also a good possibility. But more than anything else, I believe that I write because of an overwhelming desire to tell stories.
However, this drive for storytelling is not something unique to those of us who consider themselves “writers” – we all have it. The problem I think is that, for a variety of reasons, few people choose to act on that drive. Whether you are a writer, a chemist or even a budding turtle enthusiast, at some point everyone has had an awesome idea for a story.
In this three part series I would like to outline some of the tips I’ve found most helpful for my own writing – starting with the ones I have used to tame the mess of ideas in my head and create a finished draft.
1. Write everyday.
It is difficult to adequately convey how important this is. Writing everyday is the only way I have found to work though the many problems writing can bring. For instance, writing on a regular basis helps keep you inspired and interested in your work. If you take too long of a hiatus, the story mayfall from your mind (which has happened to me dozens of times) and turn into a source of frustration. Getting back into the swing of a project after a long break is much more difficult than it would seem.
2. Write about what you know.
The best stories are going to be the ones that you can develop most fully. In most cases this means writing about topics that are familiar to you. So if you have recently returned from a spelunking excursion in the hauntedcaverns of New Mexico, you can probably write a better ghost story than an 18th century British romance.
3. Never delete/throw away anything.
As my thirteen year old pile of projects shows, I’m a bit of a packrat when it comes to my written work. However, this is the tip I have been able to utilize most in my own writing. If you keep everything you write, you will always have a wealth of ideas to draw future inspiration from. Even a piece that seems absolutely horrible can turn out to be invaluable down the road. Which brings me to:
4. Don’t be afraid to abandon a project – it isn’t a waste of your time. I promise.
I have lost track of how many times I’ve gotten about halfway through a project and realized it was no longer working. Sometimes even the best ideas fall flat once you get going. This is perfectly okay, and is probably one of the most common occurrences in writing. For every story we read, there are dozens more that were set aside for one reason or another. If you get stuck, or just loose all enthusiasm about a project, that’s fine. Put it away, (but don’t throw it away). Chances are you’ll come back to it later.
5. Just write.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t write because “they’re not good at it.” Well, neither am I. I am a writer, yes, but compared to other writers my ability pales in comparison. The question of one’s ability to write well should not enter into their decision to try. Writing well, like anything else, requires lots of practice. The trick is to just sit down and get your ideas on paper. Don’t worry if the words aren’t any good at first. Sentences worthy of the Pulitzer Prize will come from meticulous editing, not from a first draft. (More on how to “Just Write” to come in part 3.)
6. Push yourself to write at your best level.
Although this may seem contradictory to my previous point, I assure you there is a method here. While it is perfectly acceptable and even good to write poorly at first, there is no harm in pushing yourself to write your best. Trying to write in a more elevated style than usual, although it may seem unnatural at first, may turn out to be one of the best writing decisions you ever made. Looking back on your work, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how great it sounds.
7. Read as if your life depended on it.
Next to writing often, the best and most important way to improve your writing is to read. It is especially helpful to read work in the same genre or category that you write. This way you can get a feel for how other writers use language, what works for them in their pieces and what may work for you. A huge part of writing is drawing from several influences, and those influences can only come from your reading.
8. Write for yourself, not for others, not for money. Write the story you want to tell and the story you want to read.
This, I think, is the most important tip of all (sorry to make you wait untilthe end). As I said before, writing is personally rewarding. Above and beyond everything else, it is something that you do for yourself. When you are writing for yourself, a tremendous amount of pressure is lifted from your shoulders. If you are writing to impress someone else, you take on a kind of responsibility to do so. And if you don’t succeed, the whole endeavor seems particularly discouraging. This will constrict your own creativity. Write stories because you want to. Write stories that you would want to read. Sure it would be awesome if your novel/ short story/ expose sold more copies than Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Grey and the Bible combined, but those aspirations should be secondary.
Check back next week for part 2 “Clearing the Hurdles of Editing and Revision.” Thanks for reading!
Mike Clemens is the author of the novel My Dying Wish. He is a student at Siena College and Assistant Editor of the Siena Promethean. You can visit him online at www.mikeclemensbooks.com.