How Not to Write: A user’s guide to becoming a professional writer as written by an amateur.
If success is about learning from your mistakes, then I ought to be the greatest writer alive. Obviously, something is terribly wrong with this line of thinking…
Hello, World. I’m frustrated too.
Like you, I am a frustrated writer. How do I know you are frustrated? Doesn’t clicking on a link to a website called “How Not to Write” automatically qualify you as someone who is not only interested in writing but is also desperate enough for tips, advice, guidance, or even support that you would come to a place that specifically tells you that it is focused on the opposite of what you seek?
Of course, maybe you arrived here through a search engine. That’s cool too, but I suspect that your query might be something along these lines:
- how to write a novel
- book reviews on writing books
- tips for writers
- how to get published
Am I close? If not, send me an email with the words you typed into Google or Yahoo or whatever because I’d like to know.
In any case, my frustration stems not from lack of success but from fear of trying. I write every day. I have two completed (though thoroughly awful) novels. I have dozens of short stories and poems. And a journal that is packed beyond the point of counting. I write all the time. Often it is for relaxation, but who am I kidding, I write to preserve my sanity. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.
Yet, just scribbling isn’t enough for me. Like you, I yearn for the day that I will make a living from my writing. I dream of book tours (despite the horror stories). I have fake interviews with Terri Gross while I am driving in the car on my way to work. I look at pictures of authors thoughtfully pondering and sigh, “There but for the evils of the publishing world go I.”
But it’s all a sham. My failures in writing have nothing to do with the outside world. They have to do with me. A few years ago, I read a book by Ralph Keyes called The Courage to Write. This was the first writing book I’d ever picked up that accurately described my “problem”. I am afraid of succeeding.
People who know me will tell you that I am driven. I exhaust them with my ideas and my tenacity. That I would be afraid of anything, especially success, would be shocking to them. They simply wouldn’t believe it and laugh you out of the room if you tried to press the issue. That said, people are good at hiding things about themselves (sometimes) and that brings me to what this site is all about.
What is How Not to Write About?
First, I’ve read so many books about writing. Maybe not more than you, but I would venture to guess that I have read far more than your average writing hobbyist, and I would like to share that knowledge with others. I’ve talked to some writers who say they don’t read these books or go to workshops or participate in writers groups. They don’t need that kind of thing, they say. I understand that mentality, but not only do I think they are lying and I believe they are doing it on the sly. So, to those folks, consider this site your writing fix wrapped in plain brown paper. I’m not going to tell if you don’t, but I do hope you find what you need and I encourage you to start reading more books about writing and talking to more writers. This doesn’t mean that you should stop writing, but that you might want to add an extra dimension to what you are doing to improve your craft.
Second, I want to trick myself into becoming more professional about my writing. Professional is a word that I, and many writers I know, hate. Of course, people who hate that word often hate it because they are jealous and I am no different. However, I believe that if I write about all of these rules and books and experiences, I can’t help but feel better about pushing myself towards success in writing.
Third, How Not to Write is a place where I can put my fears out in the open. I know that by sharing my fear of writing success I can conquer those demons. I know that others suffer from the same problem and hopefully this will be of some help.
But what’s really important…
Now, here is a little tip about editing that I learned from a very good advertising copywriter. When you are writing draft and really blasting through it, don’t stop and piddle with it. Move on through. However, when you do go back (and you are going to go back, aren’t you?) take the last sentence of your most passionate paragraph and make it the first sentence instead.
You’ll find that when you are really into what you are writing that last sentence often embodies all of the ideas and strength of the preceding combined. I’m telling you this because if you look at my reasons for creating How Not to Write, you will see that point #3 (getting over the fear) is in fact the most important of the lot. I’m not going to change the order though, but I am going to share that little tidbit with you.
Learn from My Mistakes and Enjoy!
I’ve been writing daily for more than fifteen years and I’ve never made a dime from my work. Why? Because I treat it like a hobby, and so a hobby it shall always be. If nothing else, I would encourage you to look at your own work and methods and see just how serious you are about writing and whether you are really treating your passion as an all-consuming drive or if you are using it as a cover, a way to relax, a diversion from other issues in your life.
That’s a mouthful, but writing can be an addiction just like any other. While you’re blowing another afternoon in the bookstore, take a hard look at the books in the “writing section”. Look closely at the titles and the way the books are packaged. Then, toddle over to the self-help section. Any one will do. For kicks, try dieting but you can also look at other inspirational shelves – the place is filled with them if you look with the right eyes.
Once you’re there, think about what those writing books would look like on the shelves next to the diet books. They fit right in, don’t they? That’s because they are one and the same. These books and the workshops that go along with them are all designed to help you with an addiction. That addiction is writing.
Like you, I am addicted to writing and I don’t want to stop. I want to be successful. I want to write and publish. And this is hard, because writing is work. You see that over and over again in writing books – writing is work, hard work. Chances for success are slim to non-existent. However, people get published all the time and there are a lot of people publishing books about writing too! But if you are like me and you want to be successful, what are the things you really need to do to break through?
I don’t know either.
But, I hope to discover that by filtering everything I’ve read and learned through this site. Your benefit is that you can ride along through these articles and reviews and find out how writing book X applies to my failed attempts. Hopefully, you’ll see reflections in your work and understand what went wrong and make corrections the next time around. If nothing else, I hope you’ll come to the conclusion that there is no panacea, no silver bullet, no magical formula, to writing. It is truly hard work and if all the clever writers who have ever been in the world couldn’t figure out a quick way around the problem neither will you. If nothing else, I hope I can save you years of toil.
Talk to Me
I am an extremely open person.
If you’ve gotten all the way down here, I suppose you’ve figured that much out but I’ll say it anyway because some people just troll through the headlines looking for something of interest before they stop and dive in. If this is you, welcome!
Anyway, whether you are a newbie or a professional or even the author of one of the books I’ve reviewed, feel free to email me. I love to hear from people who are writing, trying to write, have written, are published, or just like to read. The written word is my passion.
That said, I’m not an editor nor am I a publisher. I don’t know many editors or publishers, so I can’t really help you get your manuscript into the hands of someone who can do something with it. Even if I had a name, an email, or whatever, I probably couldn’t do that. Who am I to recommend the thing anyway? I’m just a hack writer who is scratching my head and trying to figure things out too. Still, if you really feel like you just need support and want to send me something. Go for it. I’ll read it and give you my honest opinion, which is more than you will get from your mother.
That’s nice, dear. Very nice.
Does that sound familiar? No, it isn’t very helpful, but I’m not going to tear your stuff up either (unless it really needs it).
If you’re a professional, I’d love to hear from you too, especially if you read something that is totally bunk on this site. I’m not going to quote you (unless you want me to), but I’d love to improve the content on How Not to Write and will consider any advice folks are willing to provide.
So, what are you doing?
You’re still reading this? Maybe get on with the articles or send me an email, but whatever you do get back to writing and quit wasting time surfing the Internet! 🙂