Two weeks ago, a colleague asked me how to start writing a biography. Now, the last time I tried to write a biography I was thirteen (it was a school assignment) so I’m not exactly an expert on this subject, but it took me all I had not to say: ‘with words.’
Perhaps I did say that. I’ve had two Covid-19 tests and a series of sick kids in between, my memory might fail me. It’s good advice, really. Words help bucket loads when writing… anything.
For what it’s worth, I very rarely get asked ‘how to write’ because most people go with: “Oh I wouldn’t have time for that.”
There is no counselling to be done on writing when there are no words. I think the biggest misassumption about writers is that we pour perfect sentences from our head just straight onto the page. I’m not a frequent blogger, I mostly blog between fiction projects or when I have something to say, and I have eleven unpublished drafts on this site alone. Posts I started but never finished/polished/shared. Try-outs. Sometimes I didn’t reach the point I wanted to make, my angle was wrong, or writing it down for myself was enough.
Sometimes I fear backlash, or, perhaps even worse, that no one will care what I have to say.
Personally, I find that a much bigger writer block than any ‘how to’ question you could throw at me.
Questions like ‘How do I write romance?’ or ‘How do I write a recommendation letter ?’ still tend to irritate me. Because they are way too generic. If that’s your question, you haven’t done your homework, and you’re asking me to do it instead. It is not very like me to call people out on that, but sue me, this time I will. I’m working on my inner shark here.
For one thing: Google is our friend. 419 million results. Oh, how I love internet.
Sure, not all of these will be qualitative results. Never mind! You are an aspiring writer so you can read, you can sift through information and retain what is useful. This is called research. Writers do a lot of research. Historical writers, occasionally, spend an entire night verifying whether the shade of ruby cloak they want their character to wear could be produced with the resources available at that time.
Or is it a cape? What is the difference between a cloak and a cape? Fascinating, no?
If the answer is ‘no’ you have probably chosen a wrong subject to write about. But even then, sometimes it pays to persist. I have cursed myself for making Ben and Alex in ‘PSL, with Love’ pick an Advanced Tax Law Master to study. And I have groaned while researching what their course program might be like.
Now, since I had already decided that Ben wasn’t going to like his study choice that much, those emotions came in handy. We could groan together. Bonding with your characters? Check!
That and I learned a thing or two. Mostly about academic life during the pandemic. Empathy with students? Check! Writing is fun. Research is fun. Learning is fun. Enjoy the journey, because you will be on it for the rest of your life. And more wholesome things like that.
I’m part of a writer discord server now, but before I joined them, I had already spent three years writing over 100.000 words a year. With how many I have erased, that’s probably double the amount. And that’s only for my original novels, not everything I did before.
I did quite a lot before.
I’m not a paid writer or a print-published writer (yet). There is more than just hard work to that, but why would you worry about it when you start? Most musicians never become pros but they still don’t expect that guitar to play itself. They don’t perform before they can string a tune either. Why should writing be any different?
It is not.
I sometimes help my husband with his texts. If you happen to be a family member or a real life friend reading this, yes, Bert writes. He even writes well. Not a single freaking typo in his entire thesis. So irritating. I make them by the dozens. He should really be my proof reader, but I write a lot and there is not enough laundry in this household to pay with.
He has never, ever, come to me for assistance with an empty page. He writes the story he wants to tell (or has to tell, let’s be fair.) And then, occasionally, I make it better while he folds the laundry. I know for a fact that he struggles with his texts, but he still makes the effort and the result, even without my help, would pass.
I love guys who make an effort and I hate laundry. It’s a match made in heaven.
I can’t tell you how to write. But I can help you describe a bar you’ve never visited, if you’re a writer that doesn’t like bars and still wants to get the setting right (effort, so sexy).
I cheerlead stories I love, and I try to advice people when I can. I love the writing group I have on Discord. I think they made the difference that helped me persist while writing PSL, with Love and I should definitely dedicate a post to the ‘why’ of that soon. Motivation, and company mostly. Advice too, definitely.
Last week, I doubted whether I could pull off writing an ENFP/INTJ as a personality match for a future romance and people spent over an hour talking to me.
I’m an ENFP, pick my brain apart anytime. (Such an ENFP thing to say).
(Don’t ever share your MBTI personality type with me, I will 100% start monitoring your behaviour for comparison with characters that share the same type.)
So that helps. It’s still me who jumps. It’s still me who makes the effort, and who risks to fail. Because without that, nothing happens.
Writing is a craft and there are countless ways to get better. There is a huge advantage to writing, too: many of these ways won’t cost you a dime. Unlike, for example, comic artists, who can get into a bit of a pickle when their drawing devices fail them. These things, they don’t come cheap.
(On the upside, visual artists can sometimes listen to a podcast while they work. ‘Silver lining’.)
The most ancient laptop can guard your writing (backup, always backup!). And if not, there are still notebooks, napkins, your phone or your head. Every writer knows ideas happen in the shower. Coloured soap, perhaps? Screenshot that wall-painting, rinse, repeat.
All you need to write is time. And the guts to fail.
I still think that last one is the true obstacle.
But if you disagree, I have a rant post over two years old and I only need a tiny push to share it. ❤