Advices To An Aspiring Writer

Not so long ago, a friend of mine asked me for a couple of advices about writing. Like I should have any wisdom, let alone authority, about writing to share. But scribomaniac as I am, I actually wrote a nice list which still sounds sane after rereading. So here it is. Use it at your own risk.

As you probably know, your brain has two sides. Each of them works a bit differently and is dedicated to a different set of tasks. While the left one is analytical, rational and prone to deal with the details, the right one is creative, intuitive and dealing with the whole.

Or you can forget about brain sides and pay your attention to the muse or genie that whispers words in your ear while you are writing. It doesn't matter if you see the writing process as being done by the brain or the genie, what is important is that you understand that writing is a complex process that has two parts: producing and editing. And those two don't mix!

Those two, producing written material and editing it, doesn't mix because they are completely different things, that employ completely different forces. Different parts of the brain. Or different species of genies.

So, how all this boils down to some usable advices?

Typewriterphoto by dandellion

Never talk what are you writing

This doesn't mean not to tell your friends what's your book or story about (though I try to avoid that for jinx-related reasons). But never talk the story that you should write. Not even to yourself. Don't even think it!

Let's say that you are taking a walk or a shower and the thoughts start unfolding, one beautiful sentence after another. Stop it! If you are not catching them on the paper or in the file, don't let them go. Because they won't come back. You can only hope that you'll remember them, but you won't.  

Thing is, once you tell the story, or a part of it, brain did its job. And it doesn't give a shit if you missed to wrote them down. It did its job and it won't do it again. Emotional battery has discharged. If you were disciplined enough to stop the flow you have some chance getting in the mood again, preferably when the pen and paper are around. After all, your brain feels the need to tell that story so it will try to get on the spot again. But once the story is told, your only chance is that you will remember some of the material and you'll be having terrible time trying to make a copy of what sounded so great back then. And chances that you'll do any good are too slim. 

Stopping yourself when the story starts flowing takes a bit of discipline. We all write because stories we produce entertain ourselves and we all love that pleasant feeling of the inspiration taking its turn. But after a few attempts this shouldn't be much of a problem. Stay firm and you'll learn that you can postpone the joy to some more convenient moment. 

Making yourself to start the inspiration flowing again takes a bit more skill. Now you have your writing instruments so you need to initiate the process again. You have to make the genie whisper again. That's what the occultists call the invocation. It takes a bit of practice and experimentation. Trick is to reproduce the emotion that induced the stream of thoughts the first time. Notice that I said "emotion" not the "idea". Ideas are nice, but what really makes us writing are emotions. Even if you are writing a technical manual, if it's to be a good one there is an emotion that drives the thoughts. So when you are stopping yourself from thinking about the subject, be sure to remember what emotion triggered the flow. As it wasn't fulfilled the first time it will have the power to go to the surface next time you touch it. 

That genie that resides in your head is a simple animal. It has the need to whisper the story in your ear and can be tamed easily if you are treating it firm and fair. 

Don't think about publishing

Don't even think that anybody, ever, will read what you write. Keep notebooks or files so only you can access them. It might sound ridiculous but if your unconsciousness is not perfectly safe from any other pair of eyes, you are in danger of self-censorship. Even if you don't notice it or not want to admit it. While you're writing you want to write freely. Let the story go wild. There will be time to think about readers and publishers and what will friends and family think about you. But it's not before you did your first draft and your first (couple of) revisions.

Write and don't stop

Also don't read what you have wrote. It doesn't matter if it sounds silly or stupid or boring. Nor if it is meaningless and discontinued. It also doesn't matter if what you write has nothing to do with what you (think that you) should write. Let the brain (mind, genius, muses…) do its job and you keep the humble role of the scribe. 

Don't think about genres, number of words and pages and all other silliness. Don't bother yourself with how it should all sound once it's finished. Just write! A lot! You can (and will) cut later. 

Also, you can't write from time to time and expect it to go smoothly. Like everything else in life, if you want to do it good, you have to do it regularly. You have to write every day

No book in the history was written in the first take

So won't yours. Forget about Mozart who used to simply write the music that was playing in his head and get the final piece. Yeah, it sounds great to let the genius do it's job, and you, the humble scribe do yours so the divine sentences come to the light of the day untouched in all their glory. But that's not going to happen. Not because Mozart's genius was an incredible one (though that counts too) but because he was into music and not into stories. Unlike music, writing takes two different jobs, one for each half of the brain. Writing is both a matter of inspiration but also a rational thing. As Ernest Hemingway said:

Write drunk; edit sober.

That doesn't mean that you should make the local liquor store your regular supplier of writing material (though Ernest certainly did). 

While for the first task you do need to let the genius spill its juices without you coming into the way, the latter one is a bit different. 

So, in the first phase you bring out the pile of material, much larger than what will become your final story. Then you cut and delete and rewrite and rewrite some more and correct and move parts around and cut some more and then rewrite again. After all that, there comes some editor or a similar person, so you rewrite together a bit more. And, by the way, not all of the Mozart's pieces were just spilled directly on the paper. He did editing as well. 

It's more than just writing

All that writing to the languor is a way of facing yourself and the world and, yes, it takes you to the depths of Hell. That is the point. It might sound scary, especially when you're close to something valuable there, but it is a good feeling. It's something like squeezing a zit. It stings and stinks a bit, but essentially it's pleasant in a strange way and it itches you to do it. So do it! And squeeze to the end. If you behave cowardly and leave the trails inside it will get inflamed and suppurate. Then you won't have a story but mental problems. But that's to be left for some other post.

Now, leave us your bits of wisdom in the comments. Then, go write!

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  • You actually made my brain hurt with that clap trap.
    I am intrigued though, what language was this post originally in? If it was in English, please please stop writing now – that would be my advises to you.

  • Thanks for getting through the whole post despite the pain. 
    And no, the original was not in English. (Un)fortunately, I can't stop writing. 

  • I was clearly overly harsh about the language, and retract any comment about you stopping writing. Where are you from, out of interest?

    I can't agree with your advice, however if it works for you it works. Best of luck with it.

  • Just seen your About page, I now know where you from – and I imagine my Serbian is far far worse than your English, so I honestly and humbly apologise.

    ????? ??? ????????

  • This is great advice in my opinion.  Earnest….I would make a comment about your initial response, but you seem to be doing a good enough job of beating yourself up, so I'll leave it!  LOL.

  • Some interesting advice, even though I'm not entirely sure I agree with it.

  • I especially like the Hemmingway quote, because even though I write sober…I feel drunk about it.  That must be the way to gauge if you're using the correct side of your brain in the process.

    Thanks for this fun and thoughtful post.

  • I feel like this was lifted directly from my brain. Only I don't have the discipline to follow the advice. Yet.

  • Stu, I'm always interested in different opinions. ideas get polished through conversation. 
    Carrie, drunkenness doesn't come only from alcohol. It's the result, not the mean that counts :)
    Julia, maybe you can find a bit of motivation here: It won't tell you anything about how to achieve discipline (I'm having that problem as well, maybe I should write another how to) but it might do some trick. 

  • "Write drunk; edit sober."
    When not taken literally the above really works.  I write best late at night when I'm half asleep.  Don't most writers keep a notebook beside there bed for those crazy ideas that pop up while we're dozing off?  At the same time, I edit best first thing in the morning when I have a clear head.  Good advice there.

  • Yeah, I start going three seconds after I turn the light off. I do have a notebook by the bed, but I still have to work on my discipline. It's so hard and painful to turn the light back on and start writing when I am sleepy.

  • Some good advice in there. It's funny how writers can take completely different approaches to writing. I'm the opposite to you on some things you mentioned. For instance, you stop yourself thinking about writing until you have pen and paper in front of you, whereas I allow myself to think about it, then think about it over and over again until I get to some pen and paper so the image is nicely embedded in my brain when I get there. I think if I stopped myself thinking about it my head would explode, or else I might not be able to get the thought back again. I loved the part about no book ever being written on the first take, it's so true.

  • Good thing is that we are talking about art so that different techniques can prove themselves successful. :) It's a great achievement to find one's own ways and techniques. I'd so love to find a good tutorial on that. 

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