A lot of people offer the advice that writers need to write every day. And a lot of people call bullshit on that notion, for a variety of reasons. If you want to know what my biggest pieces of advice are for aspiring writers:
- Live as cheaply as possible.
- Work as little as possible.
- Put the time you saved into writing.
This is what worked for me. It was around two and a half years from the time I decided “I am going to take writing seriously”, cut my work hours back to part-time, and started putting the hours in, to when I signed the book deal for Killing Gravity. Two and a half years. That’s nothing. At the time, it felt like an eternity of constant writing and endless story rejections, but in the grand scheme of things, it is no time at all.
Now, if I wanted to take the above advice and distill it down even further, I would say this:
- Consciously decide to take your writing seriously.
That’s it. That’s the one piece of advice that works for everyone, because it is different for everyone. I’m not saying “write every day”, I’m saying, make a conscious decision that this is what you want to do with your life and find a way to make it happen. For me that means writing six days a week (and, honestly, Sunday I’m still working on the newsletter and other stuff), but for you it can just mean carving out a few hours a week to dedicate to writing.
I have no kids, and no mortgage, so I can live very cheaply, and I can get away with only working 20ish hours a week (yes, I still work a day job). I also don’t go out much, and I rarely spend money on anything that isn’t a necessity or books (so, just the necessities). This is the life I chose for myself. If you have chosen a different life for yourself, then you will need to figure out your own solution. Only you can know what becoming serious means for you. But I will say this – the most important thing is making that decision. Until you do that, you’ll feel lost. Trust me, I know.
People always say “I want to write…”, “I just can’t find the time to write…”, “I’ve got this idea for a book…”, or whatever, but until you make the decision, it’s only ever going to be this nebulous maybe for a nebulous future that, frankly, you’re never going to reach. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Nobody accidentally stumbles into a successful creative career. (Ok, that one person did, but they’re a once-in-a-generation talent who makes everything they do look effortless, and we hate them.) If you’re not going to take it seriously, then give up. I did this too, and experienced the worst depressive episode of my life. But this was at least instructive. I learned that if I don’t write, I don’t enjoy life. Now if I ever feel like quitting for whatever temporary depressed reason, I can look back at that time and know that I need to press on.
Did I just get real? I think I got real.
So, make that decision, and dedicate what time you can to your craft. I’m not saying you’ll get published, but I’m saying you’ll write, your writing will improve, and that little voice in the back of your head that nags you for not writing will finally, mercifully, shut up. (There will be a whole new host of voices, but I’ll talk about them at some other time.)
Also, tangent: the other non-negotiable thing that writers do (apart from take it seriously), is read. If you come up to me and want to talk about writing and you don’t read, the conversation is over.
Writing is a conversation. It’s a conversation between the voices in your head, it’s a conversation between you and the reader, and it’s a conversation between your work and the stories and authors that inspired it (and if you’re lucky, it’s a conversation between your work and the stories and authors it will inspire). If you’re not reading, then you’re the arsehole at the party who loudly talks over everyone else without listening. Don’t be that arsehole.
If you think you don’t have time, listen to audiobooks on your commute, or at your job. Read novellas – they’re short enough that you can read one in a day. If you want to write short stories, read short stories. If you want to write comics, read comics. Pay attention to what works, and try and figure out why.