How to Write

Whatever piece of writing advice you get, the opposite is also true, so do this: write what you have to – what you need to – what comes out of you. I wanted to write the great American novel, and instead I am writing advice columns for my niece. It is what it is.

Everyone has a plan: write early in the morning (I would rather poke my eyes with sharp sticks) or write during your commute, it doesn’t matter much where or with what you write.

Never admit to writing – if someone asks what you are doing, say “cleaning the cat litter box” or “de-pilling wool sweaters”

No, Darling, that expensive pen will not help your plot, neither will hand-made paper, sitting in French cafes and/or leather notebook covers. Italian lover(s) will not help either, they will break your heart and your tears will cause your keyboard to malfunction. Stick to Norwegians, no drama, no talking to bother you when you are trying to write and they probably have an adorable wooden cabin.

Write, then re-write. If you love or hate what you write, it doesn’t matter because it is all going to get rewritten anyway. Make a first draft so that you can make a better second draft.

Do no call yourself ‘a child of wonder’ or ‘scribe’ or any such nonsense. You write. You are a writer. James Joyce had permission to say that he was going to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” – you do not have that permission

Remember when you were new at your job, your first class in a new school, your first night in a new apartment or city, first date, first fight, first anything, never forget that beginnings are frightening.

Yes, a lot has already been written, but not by you, not from your unique perspective.

Yes, a lot of crap has been published, sulk about it for a few hours when you get a rejection letter and then go back to writing.

You are special, but not that special. Your books/ essays/ poems will get rejected by intelligent people and you will rewrite.

Don’t be pretentious and don’t brag – never, never humble brag, “Oh I can’t tonight, sigh, it’s my night for writing, did I mention I was writing a book?” Darling, everyone is either writing a book or doing something more worthwhile than writing a book, like saving koalas.

Only complain about the revisions your editors wants and your paltry royalties to someone with more publications and more money than you.

Never delete anything – when you revise, keep the original document intact, do ‘save as’ and work on the new file.

Try different genres – write poems if you hate poetry and write a drama if you hate plays.

If you feel stuck, try to push yourself a bit, then walk away – clean something. Yes, I know your refrigerator could use a good scrub.

Carry around a paper calendar/ small notebook with you so you can jot down ideas but if you do this ostentatiously a small child will throw up on it. This is an inevitable law of the universe. The universe hates snobs. If someone asks you what you are jotting, say “reminder to make a dentist appointment, my teeth are getting furry” or “shopping list, just remembered I am all out of toilet cleaner.”

Scented candles won’t help finish your 17th chapter, but they might calm you down as you panic when you have no idea how to finish your 17th chapter.