10-06-2019

Writers, here are some tough questions that you need to ask yourselves as you set to work on your magnum opus.

Where’s your writing plan?

If you don’t have a writing plan, it’s pointless vowing to write 500 words or 1,000 words a day. What will you be writing about? No one will want to read about your private angst or your unrequited love. It’s not always that valuable to make it public unless you can turn it into a gripping story… and that means having a writing plan.

What’s your motivation?

Writers who agonize about writers’ block are wasting time… agonizing about writers’ block. As Margaret Atwood said, ‘No one is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.’

Take a break, ‘change state’ as we say in NLP. Do something else, go for a walk, work on another project. Free up your subconscious to think about what you need to write next.

Writing is powered by intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic motivation. If someone has to feed you chocolate, shame you, or beat you around the head to make you write, the chances are that you’ve chosen the wrong occupation.

Why write?

Consider why you want to be a writer. Is it because you have an important story that needs to be told? Is it because you want to be famous? Is it because you believe it will bring you respect? Don’t confuse the desire to be a celebrity with the desire to be a writer.

If, for example, you are obsessed with posting glamorous pictures of yourself on social media, are you absolutely sure you are a writer and not a narcissist? Ouch, that may hurt, but it needs to be said.

Do you see writing as a money-making activity?

Unless you can get yourself a three-book deal, you are unlikely to be able to make a living from your writing. Be advised that many authors take on jobs as creative writing tutors because they are not making enough from their writing to pay their mortgages.

Why do we re-write our work?

Seasoned writers know that their work can always be improved. When we are new to writing and have less experience, in the words of Thomas Pynchon, ‘we are often unaware of the scope and structure of our ignorance.’

Don’t write, submit, and run. Writing is re-writing. After you have finished your first draft, let your work stew for a while. Attend to other projects, plan, read, write some more. Then, return to review and improve your earlier project.

Bear in mind also that when you are editing your first draft, you usually need to cut words – not add them.

Why read?

Do you want to write but don’t know how or where to begin? If you want to write a novel, read novels. If you want to write a short story, read short stories. If you want to write a poem, read poetry. And so on. That should at least get you started.

Could you build a bridge if you had never studied the structure and building materials of a bridge?

Strange though it may seem, people who buy books don’t necessarily read them. Stop buying books compulsively. The books will still be there when you need them. You dishonor a book and its author if you buy it and then never read it. Only when you finish reading a book should you buy a new one. If you can’t finish a book, be generous and give it to someone who can.

Are you getting the write advice?

Would you let someone who does not read widely, who does not write well, and who has never had a story or a novel traditionally published to critique your work? Are they qualified or sufficiently informed?

Let’s put it another way. To what extent would you take serious medical advice from someone who had no medical experience?

The members of MFA and MA courses whose tutorial groups practise highly rigorous critiquing all end up writing like each other. In your encounters with other writers, you need to develop your writing voice, but also to defend it.

Are you prepared to find the time to write?

‘Prospective’ writers who are involved in a million other activities, who are busy socializing, and spending an inordinate amount of time on social media will never write a book… unless they get someone to write it for them, or unless they stop their other activities and focus on their writing.

There is no overnight success. There are no shortcuts. Writing is hard work spread over an extended period of time.

You don’t need to give up your job to write a good novel or short story collection. If you are committed to your writing, you will be focused. If you are focused, you will be able to clarify your priorities and find the time necessary to write what you need to write.

Don’t wait to write. The time to write is now. The time to write is always now.

Written by Janet Olearski

Janet Olearski is an author and writing coach, and the founder of the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop.  She is often surprised to find books on her bookshelves that she forgot she had bought. Read more at: http://www.janetolearski.com