Saturday, 1 April 2017

Untitled writing advice post

What if everyone's a prodigy, but they just don't know in what field? What if you were dragged along to an inner-city “couple’s” session on the first floor of a failing homeware outlet to make a cup, and everyone said, "Holy Christ lady, that’s an amazing cup..."

The thing is, you could be an incredible writer and no one, including yourself, would ever know. But it is impossible to daydream about being an incredible athlete and not know how good you are at throwing a ball. This society cultivates sporting talent on a factory line. Every kid knows precisely how good or bad he is at playing sports by about age ten.

Sports requires practice and players practice all the time. Writers don't. I don't mean "Taking my MacBook to the coffeehouse to work on my novel," I mean sitting down every afternoon and Stephen Kinging out 2000 words/day. People who aren't paid to be writers don't practice writing, there simply isn't enough time. Even if you have something to say, only when friends put battery acid in your underwear will it be enough to get you started on a blog.

And now you have a blog, what do you do? Should you choose the title first, or start on the opening paragraph? Or maybe the last? Then you get hungry and a million reasons arise not to practice writing. Sports isn't like that. It is physically demanding but the path is very, very clear. Run these laps, push this weight, practice these skills. And every day you know exactly how far you stand from your ultimate goal. We’re supremely good at defining paths to sporting success. Of course, it doesn't guarantee results, but you can't say you never knew what to do next.

Writing (and any entrepreneurial endeavour) doesn't offer any of this. You're on your own, and by the way, you're going to fail. Probably. However, I think it’s important to point out there is considerably more opportunity for success in writing than in sports. Talent helps, but practice alone is sufficient and blogging can make a surprising amount of money.

The only writing advice I have is to sit in a specific place to write a complete first draft, all the way through, without obsessing over sentences and word choice. Then, leave it alone for a bit. Go back later to revise it in the place where you do your reading, not where you do your writing. So, if you do your serious reading on the couch, that's where you should review the drafts.

The reason is, people have a general idea of what they want to say, along with a few key sentences. But the rest is still unknown and the process of writing the thoughts invariably triggers new thoughts. So the first and early drafts are about forming the structure and elements, along with those key phrases that exist nowhere else in your mind. The subsequent drafts are where the writing really takes shape and you discover what was missing from your original idea, or other elements of the point to refine or add. It's also when you critique the work to see if it really is as brilliant as you thought and to assess how it might sound to the reader.

Essentially, it's about multiple complete drafts separated by careful consideration and self-criticism, not real-time composition.

I think the most important reason sports is encouraged is because it demands nothing of the audience, whereas writing does. So my larger point is if we want to encourage writers, we have to encourage readers, which means competing against movies and TV. The only thing sports needs is more marketing. There’s almost no competition (haha).

In high school, athletes train for two hours after school three times a week. Do high school writers do that? If they do, great, but it’s far "easier" to structure daily workout time at the gym than to compel a kid to sit in front of a desk between 7pm and 9pm.

Encouraging readers is the hardest part of all this, but it’s the most critical. Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings or whatever are great but there is no logical progression to any other kind of reading. Lots of people read these books and never read another book again. They develop a love of those books, but not a love of reading. Grab ten random people: are they better able to tolerate an entire football game between unknown teams, or a novel written by an unknown author?

The problem is with the infrastructure and promotion. Are you interested in sports? Have a seat, here's some Doritos, let me walk you through the scores. Oh, you're interested in Twilight? Awesome, it's on Netflix...

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