Advice to a Young Writer

Two Pencils

Two Pencils
My young friend, this will sound harsh, but take a deep breath and I’ll explain.

Your writing puts me inside your head; unfortunately, your head is up your ass.

Pithy, right? What kind of insensitive jerk writes something like that? You need both in your writing.

1) Edit, edit, edit.

Be ruthless – cut the filler words. Hone your sentences until they flow like fine conversation.

2) Be willing to offend.

If you don’t upset anybody, you’re not trying.  Give us something worth paying attention to.

Cat Stevens wrote, “You’re still young, that’s your fault.” Brilliant criticism; it says maturity is a choice. Learn everything you can, assimilate the experts, THEN you can spin your own take on the world. And so,

3) Read twice as much as you write.

That doesn’t mean read two pages for every one you write. It means if you spent an hour on a page, two hours of reading should have fueled its creation.

4) Do what’s hard.

You don’t want to work soul sucking part-time jobs. You’d rather be paid as a writer. I get that. But those menial experiences will give you credibility, and ultimately bolster your writing with real authority.

Talent is overrated, and it’s actually pretty rare.  Work those jobs and make time to practice your writing.  Push yourself beyond what’s comfortable – meeting deadlines is often better than indulging yourself with the notion that your product is better because you took extra time with it (especially if you just procrastinated and/or overslept).

5) Accept compliments with a grain of salt.

Your parents cheered when you played a carrot in the school play.  Your friends have showered your social media feed with Likes.  Be gracious, and then get back to work.  Maintain a clear eye on what you’re aiming for.  Find mentors who challenge you – sometimes those will be people (teachers) but more often they’ll be other writers you’ll never meet.

6) Assume your audience is at least as smart as you.

The reason …For Dummies books are successful is because they aren’t really for dummies. The writing is usually in a tone of, “Hey smart person, let’s figure out this thing you don’t happen to know as much about…”

7) Keep writing.

It’s a marathon. Put in the work, train like crazy, and accept that many days won’t feel productive. You might need to write nine pages to get one worth reading. If that one page is good, the other nine were worth it.