If you took writing seriously, your first instinct would’ve been to click on this post to tell me I spelt my title wrong. Awesome job. That’s what a serious writer would do.
But don’t feel left out if you didn’t, because you’re here, and that means you’re awesome either way.
Besides, writing is more than being the grammar police, am I right? It’s not just about being keen with the language. You’ll also need to approach it from a crafter’s perspective rather than an artist’s.
That’s why I’ve always enjoyed Ann Patchett’s book on the craft titled The Getaway Car. You don’t see it brought up often, especially when compared to the usual suspects such as Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, but boy is it filled with tons of crafting wisdom.
This quote summarises why I like Ann’s thoughts on writing: “Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?”
Spot on, Ann. Spot on.
Dunning-Kruger up in here
There aren’t many things that people think they can do out of the box, yet some skills like writing, fighting, and singing often get a pass.
Common thoughts like “nobody can take me on when I get angry, bro” or “my first book is going to be better than Twilight” are often expressed with little follow through, and with good reason. It’s because the above skills require actual skills. And that takes practice. Lots of it.
You don’t hear any schmuck off the street saying “I’m going to join the Philharmonic Orchestra”, but you do get a ton of “I’m going to write a bestseller” even though their last attempt at writing a story was in Miss White’s fourth grade class.
That’s not to say that the average person can’t whip up a manuscript by month’s end. It’s just that it’ll probably be the equivalent of an untrained person going up on American Idol—you get the occasional savants, but most of the time, it’s shit.
That’s the main distinction between the pros and the casuals. It’s not about bylines, money, connections, or vocabulary. It’s the respect they have for the craft.
And so what better way to kick this week off with things you’d do if you treated your writing like a craft?
1. You would train
Because writing is so accessible, nobody gives practice a second thought. In most people’s minds, writing a novel is all about firing up a word processor and magically plucking sentences out your ass.
And in some ways, that’s true.
But you wouldn’t do the same if you were, say, a sportsperson or musician. At least then you’d admit incompetence from having not done said activity.
There’s no such luxury for writing though. Tell people you wrote a short story and your listeners would tell you they’d do the same. It’s just making stuff up after all, isn’t it?
Never mind the fact that transforming the thoughts in your head into an actual story requires experience that you’ll only get from… well… writing.
We’re headed into chicken-and-egg territory here, but you get the gist—it’s not wrong to start on your writing dreams today. Just don’t think that all you need is a weekend off on a tropical island for you to bang out your first space opera.
2. Prioritising would be a priority
Nobody accidentally summits Mount Everest. There’s a ton of work involved in that quest, and said work requires day-to-day sacrifice.
Likewise, nobody drifts through life only to accidentally write an 80,000-word manuscript.
Of course, writing isn’t exactly climbing Mount Everest, but it could very well feel like it. Because conquering your word count means doing the work necessary to tackle the blank page. And you’re not going to get there if you constantly put off your appointments with Google Docs.
I’m talking to you, mother of two, or holder of two jobs, or the carer of the sick. Whatever you have going on in your life right now may not disappear in the near future. So you best get to slotting in your writing time whenever you can.
Ask yourself: What would your routine look like if you prioritised writing?
Cam Hanes, an ultrarunner-slash-hunter, prioritises running one marathon a day. He does this while maintaining a full-time job and caring for his family. How? He wakes up earlier to run 16 miles, then he does about seven during his lunch break, and finishes everything off before bed.
You don’t need to go full on beast mode, but where in your unique life could you fit five minutes of writing? And what little luxuries could you forgo to make that happen?
Only you can answer that question.
3. Cross-training would be on the menu
I haven’t seen a successful athlete who didn’t also have a good strength and conditioning programme. Some athletes work on their mobility. Others take up a complementary sport like judo to round up their Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Sure, you don’t have to cross-train, but focus on one sport too much and you could end up overdeveloping certain muscles while neglecting others.
In that same vein, only sticking to what you know may do your writing more harm than good.
I personally have seen massive growth in my abilities after treading into uncharted territory, such as annual reports and business articles. And while exploring new mediums may seem like a fruitless pursuit, you’d be surprised at how much dimension it adds to your writing on a whole.
So get out of your comfort zone. Learn to swim in the literary pool if all you’ve ever done was to run laps. Here are a few places to start: scriptwriting, video game writing, comics, technical writing, and more!
4. You wouldn’t wait for motivation
Where would the Olympics be if the athletes only trained whenever they were in the mood? What would you think of your doctor if he didn’t show up to the operation theatre because he ‘wasn’t feeling it’?
Now apply that to writing. How would I sound if I told you I was serious about writing, yet I’d only write twice a week because that’s when my muse visits?
I know that the topic of writing without inspiration has been done to death, but if you’ve ever mentioned wanting to foster a life or writing, then know that I’ll be right behind you supporting you on your journey.
And as a true writing buddy, you can bet your ass I won’t let you succumb to your own excuses.
So from now on, be vigilant for the days you don’t feel like writing (and if you’re anything like me, you won’t have to wait too long). And if your plan for that day was to write, you make sure to welcome your negative feelings and keep it company as you sit your ass down at the keyboard to type.
5. You’d study your craft
Just like how a boxer would study tapes of his opponents, so too will you have to learn about your audience. And the way a musician learns her theory would also be the same way you’d approach your literary studies.
That could mean knowing the conventional tripe, such as ‘show don’t tell’ or ‘don’t mix your tenses’. That could also mean studying all the authors in your genre. Whatever it is, study the rules so that you can learn how to break them, just like I used different tenses five paragraphs up.
Because not caring about the rules is not the same as not knowing which ones you’re breaking.
Then once you’re done studying, forget everything you’ve learned, because life’s too short to take ourselves too seriously.
Actions speak louder than words
Before I end this post, I’d just like to add a late disclaimer that all these points don’t matter if you’re just writing for fun. You can do anything you want if it’s just a hobby.
It’s when you turn pro that I have to hold you to higher standards. Because it’s so easy to hate these days, and I wouldn’t want you to be the subject of ridicule.
The person who blogs every day is putting out subpar content, because you can’t possible write quality posts that fast. The self-published author probably sucks because they can’t get an agent. That romance novel is stupid because of the glittering vampires.
But instead of hating or others, or worrying whether or not they hate you, perhaps we should all go back to the most important thing of all, and that’s to simply write.
Because once you look past the discussion of pantsers versus plotters, the poets versus the novelists, or the non-fiction versus the fiction writers, you’ll realise that the ones who take their craft seriously—no matter their identity or genre—have one thing in common: they write.
And in the end, so should you.
If you liked this post, you’ll also enjoy the fortnightly newsletters I send out (that are separate from the blog). Plus, if you sign up for it, you’ll also get a free guide on how to grow your WordPress blog!