On Writing

Anyone who has ever ventured in search of advice on writing has undoubtedly found that supply is endless.

From well-established authors, literary magazines, writing programmes, up-and-coming writers, bloggers …  to name just the most obvious.

There was a time when I travelled those same roads in search of wisdom that would compel me to sit still and keep my fingers on a keyboard until words flow.

In time I come to realise that there is no such wisdom.

What there is, is the passion that keeps us coming back to the blank sheet of paper to search for words that only rarely flow but rather require hammer and chisel with which to forge a story we know is there. Blacksmiths of dreams.

When I read Zadie Smith’s ten commandments on writing, I found them compelling in their simple truthfulness:  

1.     When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.

2.     When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

3.     Don’t romanticize your ‘vocation.’ You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle.’ All that matters is what you leave on the page.

4.     Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.

5.     Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

6.     Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.

7.     Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

8.     Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

9.     Don’t confuse honors with achievement.

 10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.