I’ve seen a lot of things lately stumbling around Tumblr that market themselves as advice for writers. They’re all posts that promise you quick solutions, things like the Dos and Don’ts of Finishing Your Novel or How To Create a Compelling Character. People read them and reblog them and praise them for their helpfulness and authority.
I’m graduating in a week. In exactly 7 days, almost to the hour, I will be walking across a stage and accepting a diploma from a bunch of school administrators that I’ve never met but who will insist that they are responsible for any success I may have. I’m graduating with a degree in Fiction Writing, and while that doesn’t make me an expert, it does mean I know a few things.
The best advice I can give you is: stop reading those damn lists.
There is no formula for writing. There are no steps you can follow down a magical path to being published. No one can tell you what to write or how to write it. It’s your story, not theirs. Tell them to get their grubby paws off your brain, because, contrary to what they believe, you don’t need them.
Your book is yours. Your characters are yours. Your world is yours. If you stay true to yourself, stay true to those characters and that story and that world, you won’t need those lists. You won’t need advice on how to end your novel, and any time you take advice, especially unasked for advice, that person is just trying to write your story for you. Don’t let them.
All those lists and advice columns and essays on how to write, all they do is play off your insecurities and try and act like they know a whole lot of shit. They don’t know anything. They don’t know your story. They don’t know your brain.
So you’re worried your characters aren’t believable. So you think you’ve got some plot holes on your hands. So you’re not sure how to start or end or continue your story. So you’re stuck.
The only person that can get you out of those holes is you. No one else. Not your mom, not your teacher, not some person on the internet who thinks he/she knows how writing works.
If you’re stuck on something, read. Read every book you can think of. Read Moby Dick. Read War and Peace. Read Harry Potter and John Green and Grapes of Wrath and Stephen King. Read every book you can get your hands on and then read them again. That’s where you’ll find your answers. That’s how you learn about writing.
You don’t learn how to cook by reading the recipe. You learn how to cook by tasting the cooking. Reading published books, that’s your taste test. Your brain will take what it needs from those books, will mash it up and spit it back out onto paper when you’re stuck on something. You can’t cook without ever tasting the food, and you can’t write without reading.
There is no formula for writing. There are no rules. There are no Dos and Don’ts and Shouldn’ts and Can’ts. Do the opposite of whatever anyone tells you to do in your writing. Break every rule you can think of. Don’t listen if someone tells you that you can’t do something. They don’t know shit. Do whatever the story tells you to do. Do what your story needs.
All those lists and advice columns do is try and tell you that you can’t write, that you don’t know what you’re doing.
You do know what you’re doing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
If you get scared, or worried, or don’t feel good enough. Read. Read bad books and good ones and poems and short stories. Look at art. Go for a walk. Immerse yourself in the art of living. Immerse yourself in the writing. Everything will come together in the end.
"You fail only if you stop writing." — Ray Bradbury