They say that you either got it or you don’t. That you’re born with it and you cannot be taught it. How to write, that is.
Be that as it may, there are a lot of things we can do to become better writers and one of those is listen to advice from those who do it better than we do. Thus, in an attempt to leave the world a better place than I found it, I shall compile some of the best writing advice I’ve received over the years.
Keep a pen and notebook by your bedside
Some of my best ideas strike me when I’m half asleep. Some others show themselves in dreams. If I don’t write force myself awake and write them down immediately, they’re gone by the morning and all I have left is a sense of loss. It was my late grandfather—also an author, albeit of non-fiction—who passed on this bit of wisdom to me, that never go to sleep without pen and paper at hand. Doing so has sparked many a new idea or an inspired twist in an ongoing piece of work.
Keep an ideas notebook
I started doing this pretty late in life and even though I’ve rarely flipped through it and thought, “Ah, that’s what I’m going to write about next,” it feels pretty damn good to flip through it anyway. I’ve read about writers keeping character notebooks and quotes and anything else that inspires them. Oh, and if you feel that carting a notebook is so 2000s, do try Evernote for a cloud-based note-taking app that will work across your devices.
Have a writing schedule
You innate writing skill might shine so bright it could solve the planet’s energy crisis, but you’re not going to do much good with it if you let it get rusty. Risk not working those writing muscles and they are going to wither and fall off sooner or later. It’s like practising a sport or a musical instrument. One could go on with the similes, but I guess you get the drift. It doesn’t matter if you spew crap sometimes, just don’t give up.
Recent research suggests that the best time to write is the morning, but if it doesn’t work for you, don’t sweat it. The important thing is to have a routine, as these famous authors will tell you.
Give yourself little writing retreats
I’ve done some of my best work in pyjamas, without having bothered to get out of bed. But I’ve also been extremely productive while treating myself to a coffee at the neighbourhood cafe. It’s true that there’s nothing as comfortable as working at home (or whatever your usual writing haunt is), but a temporary retreat—say, to a park or a coffee shop; I’ve even worked at a bus stop—can work wonders, especially if one is blocked. A change of scene can force one to think differently. Sometimes, moving out of the house for a short period helps me focus better—since there’s nothing I can do about the overflowing laundry basket or worry about answering the door, I might as well devote all my brain power to my story.
Don’t try too hard
The “don’t try too hard” and “just be yourself” refrains can sometimes feel the most patronizing and useless bits of advice you can get, but there’s hidden treasure in there, believe me. I was told this repeatedly by someone who first made me believe that I could be a writer and it was many years before I finally understood what it meant. You are not J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or Val McDermid or Shobha De or Khushwant Singh or whoever else you might worship. You are you, and that you is not going to pop out till you relax. That, of course, doesn’t mean one can go take a nap while the next book writes itself. You still have to work your behind off.
In other words, work hard but don’t try too hard. Yes, this writing thing is complicated, but you know you can do it, you want to.