Whether you plan to write fiction or non-fiction, as an aspiring writer you need a solid dose of reality.
You really can make money as a writer. You can even do it as a professional blogger. My story is simple and straightforward. It's not glamorous, and following my tips probably won't lead to insane amounts of wealth. The simple things that I write about in my book are about making a living as a writer. It's not a system. There aren't any amazing secrets. But it's realistic.
As a writer, sometimes you need a dose of reality, whether you write fiction or whether you are into completely uncreative non-fiction like I am. Here are five doses of reality from famous writers. Before you take the plunge make sure that an aspiring writer is what you want to be:
1. Develop a Thick Hide — Harper Lee
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
Not everyone is going to love what you write. Even if you write with impeccable grammar and your ideas are well-thought-out, there are those who just aren't going to like what you've done. I've been called everything from a content whore to an asshole.
Plus, I'm asked for revisions sometimes. What I write doesn't always pass muster the first time around. You need to be ready to take constructive criticism when it comes your way and do your best to avoid feeding the trolls.
2. Have the Courage to Write Badly — Joshua Wolf Shenk
“Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. … I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half [of Lincoln's Melancholy]. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.”
Trying to perfect a first draft rarely works. It's difficult, disappointing, and time-consuming. Instead, dash it off quickly. Then go back through and edit. Earnest Hemingway pointed out that “The first draft of everything is shit” and that you should “Write drunk. Edit sober.”
Once you get through the first draft, you can figure out what needs changing and refine your language. The important thing is to see where things are going.
3. Tell Stories Only You Can Tell — Neil Gaiman
“[A]s quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell. Because there will always be better writers than you and there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you. … but you are the only you.”
Neil Gaiman has long been one of my favorite authors, and he's always great with real-world, go-to advice on writing and creativity. He points out that you should tell stories you can tell in order to find your own voice.
Even if you write about things that other people write about, it's important to make what you write your own. This is especially true in the world of non-fiction and professional blogging. Remember to be you.
Of course, Gaiman also said this: “Go and read outside of your comfort zone, go and learn stuff.” Sometimes you don't have to write what you know to make money. Sometimes you just need to learn about something that is in demand and write about that.
But make sure you write about it in your own way.
4. Quantity Produces Quality — Ray Bradbury
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed.”
Just sitting down to write is one of the oldest tricks in the book for defeating writer's block. Even if what you write is complete crap to begin with, the more you write, the better off you'll be. Make it a point to write a lot. When you do that, you will have more to choose from. When you hit upon a good idea — even if it's poorly written — you can refine it.
Over time, the more you write, the better you'll be. As Gertrude Stein pointed out, “To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.”
An aspiring writer has to write.
5. You Can't Wait for Inspiration — Jack London
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Sometimes, inspiration strikes. And when that happens, it's nice to have a notebook handy or phone app that helps you record your golden mind nuggets. Most of the time, though, you need to get out there and look for inspiration.
Stephen King said something similar in his book On Writing: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
While I often try to write as much as I can when the mood strikes, the reality is that sometimes you just have to start writing and look for the inspiration as you go along.
What are your favorite bits of realistic advice for the aspiring writer?