I know what the title of this sounds like, but let me assure you that I don’t consider myself any kind authority or expert on writing. I don’t believe there is a hidden secret to being a great writer, and I really don’t believe anyone who says there is, and they just happen to outline it in their new book. And on the off chance there really is something like that out there, I have no clue what it is, or where in hell to start looking. What I do know is that I can give an accurate description of the things that have gone through my head since I decided to start down the road of the wordslinger, realizing over time that there are no secrets or shortcuts or seminars that can make you a better writer. It’s the long way or nothing.
Some years back, an acquaintance of mine asked me for my opinion on his decision to walk the same road, and any advice I had on picking up a pen and making an honest go of it. What came out was three separate answers, with each one a few pages long. The first was as supportive and motivational as I could possibly get without sounding patronizing. The second was a bit more realistic with a cautionary overtone. The third was, for the most part, me accusing him of being crazy, stupid, or both.
I still stand by all three of these answers, but instead of reprinting them here, I’ve decided to take the points I made and present them here.
THE 5 W’S
Who are you? That’s the best place to start, and it’s also the trickiest because it can and will change over time. It will also be the biggest factor in crafting your voice, or distinction in style that is unique to you. The you’ll probably wonder who will read what you write. Short answer: Nobody. Long answer: Unless you’ve been in this game a while, your marketing plan is damn effective, and you’re already on bestseller lists of one kind or another, be prepared for something worse than harsh criticism: Silence. Whose fault is it? Nobody’s. It means you try harder and keep going. Who taught you to promote and advertise anyway?
What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Because if it’s anything except writing your piece while you’re writing your piece, you’re doing too much and thinking too hard. Just get what you have in your head out and onto the page. All of it. What next? You edit it! Or, better yet, you find someone else to edit it. But backtracking a bit, there’s alway the looming question of what you should write about. The most honest answer I can give you is, I really don’t care. Just write it.
When is this going to pay my bills? When exactly did I lose my mind? When am I going to realize this is the worst mistake I’ve ever made? When is that coffee going to be finished? When am I going to stop asking questions and actually get back to writing? Time will always be a precious commodity to a writer, whether they realize it or not right away.
Where is my inspiration/muse/ephemeral scapegoat? Well, I hate to say it, but if you’re looking for the heavens to align so you can get started, you’re going to be waiting much longer than you actually need to at all. Once the realization that your best tools for writing are mental, and that surroundings will only ever matter as much as you let them, “where” is no longer relevant. Unless the questions are “Where the hell is my coffee?” or “Where did life go so very wrong?”
“Why” is the big one. Within it is the answer that will carry you every step of the way, so make sure that answer is genuinely yours, and it is as honest as possible. Why write? I won’t make an attempt to list off answers to that question, because I know there are as many different answers as there are people. Just make sure yours is yours. This is your talent being put to work. These are your stories being told. It’s you who will catch the eye rolls and groans when they hear you’re a writer. Why put yourself through that?
Again, why write?
Why the hell not?
So, I guess in the end, all I’m hoping to do is give any potential wordslingers out there an “early look at the test questions” as I know them. The things that I’ve had to agonize over because every resource on writing or being a writer didn’t cover the things that actually popped up. If this gives someone, somewhere, a hand with writing, great. And if it’s all really bullshit, deployed in hopes of sabotaging future competition, who’s really going to know?