#127: Doin’ It Right

Advice for writers, eh? What of it? I’ve been posting daily inspiration and all sorts of other advice for writers on this blog for years. Once in a while, a quote I post gets a lot of attention, and the comments start coming in. Oh, the comments.

Contrary to Godwin’s Law, many comments on this blog are positive and very encouraging. But we wouldn’t be on the Internet if there weren’t at least a few negative ones. They range from plain misunderstanding, questioning the credibility of the author (who’s Stephen King anyway?) to outright fury about a specific piece of advice. Today, I’d like to talk about the last category.

All the snippets of wisdom that I curate for this blog are reflections of the respective authors’ experiences. When Susan Sontag says that

A writer, like an athlete, must ‘train’ every day. What did I do today to keep in ‘form’?
—Susan Sontag

What she really means is that she expects herself as a writer to train every day. It might have been something that she did or aspired to do given her own circumstances. Every writer is different, and while it might be good advice for most people, it may not be right for you.

When Ray Bradbury says that

You must write every single day of your life.
—Ray Bradbury

Does it mean that if you skip Thursdays, you will never be a successful writer? Well, of course not. Some people prefer writing 500 words every day. Others like burning through 4,000 words on a Sunday. In the words of Zadie Smith

There is no “writer's lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
—Zadie Smith

Readers don’t care how you produce your work. We want to see the results. As a writer though, I’m fascinated by the habits and routines of other writers. How did they get to where they are today? What’s it like to be in their shoes?

I’m not looking to adopt their advice wholesale. I’m trying to understand why they did what they did, and what I can learn from it. There’s also plenty of advice out there which I find unhelpful, but I see how it can work for others.

Several famous authors talk about having no backup plan. They went all in, and writing a good book was their only option which finally gave them the motivation they needed. I would never do that.

Writing is an extremely personal matter. There’s no right or wrong, as long as things are working for you.

Then why authors make such grand statements and sweeping generalisations about writing? It’s because they found what works for them. And when that happens, you feel like you’ve just figured out life itself. Suddenly, everything falls into place and you’re wondering why did it take you so long. Naturally, most writers want to share their epiphanies with others, forgetting that we’re not all the same after all.

The next time you see a piece of writing advice that just seems wrong, remember that nobody is really doing it right, except Daft Punk, of course.

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