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Lauren Beukes

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Great writing advice from other people

I reckon making it as a writer is 10% talent, 10% sheer bloody luck and 80% sweat-your-guts-out-hard-work-and-determination-and-bouncing-back-from-crushing-obstacles. It’s the same kind of mind-numbing persistence and patience and practice as becoming a concert pianist or a pro rugby player. Do it every day, even when you don’t want to. In fact, especially then. Writers write and a blank page and a blinking cursor never did anyone any good. Crappy writing is fixable and wa-aaa-aaay better than no writing at all. Sit your ass at that keyboard and type, my friend. That’s the only way.

Richard Kadrey, who I got to hang out with in San Francisco and who is wonderfully mad and smart and cool says it even better in a helluva blog that recounts how his career was dead in the water and how he came back. It’s worth reading in full over at The Big Idea: Richard Kadrey (where he also talks about his raucous new novel, Aloha From Hell), but here’s the part that resonated with me the most:

“Success isn’t just a matter of talent. It’s a combination of desire, arrogance and a sense of “What the hell else am I supposed to do?” Every pro writer knows a better writer who started out at the same time but you’ve never heard of them. Why? Because they gave up when things got hard. And you know what? Fuck ‘em. They didn’t have the guts to stick it out. If you want to be professional writer get yourself a truckful of guts but a shot glass of ego and maybe you’ll make it. You’re not dead until you decide you’re dead. Look at me. I’m that guy you hear about sometimes. The 20-year overnight success.

I also really loved Louis Greenberg’s candid insight into the writing life, hitting a wobbly and getting over yourself, because writing – and getting paid for it – is an incredible luxury and a privilege.

Again it’s worth reading the whole thing over at All About Writing: Note To My Inner Brat, but here’s my favourite bit:

“But sometimes my inner brat rebels at all the pressure. It tells me in unconvincing hippie tones, ‘Chill out, what’s all the striving for?’ And despite the bad California accent, it’s rather compelling sometimes. Yes, I would rather play solitaire all day. Yes, I would rather treat my inner brat to a movie date. Yes, I would rather tweet and facebook all day and hope that people laugh at my jokes. Yes, I would rather lie on the floor and read my book.

NO, I wouldn’t. I’d like to write this novel.

More honestly, I’d like to have written this novel. I’m enjoying it. (I know there are lots of writers’ advice columns which warn you against enjoying your own work because it’s a sure sign that blah blah blah – but if you’re not enjoying it, I wonder, why will anyone else?) I wish I could read more than the half I’ve written. I want to know what happens. I can’t wait for my wife to read it, then my writing friends, then an agent who’ll fall off his chair because it’s so good and sign me up, then the publishers who will come to physical blows over it, then millions of fans and then the movie producers and then, and then, you know … and then.

Problem is, I have to wait. I have to have lots of days when I squeeze out five hundred grudging words containing two decentish ideas that might work, or a couple of lines of plotting. I have to be here for those days. I have to stare at this monotonous screen and force it out while everyone else is frolicking outside.

Still want more? Chuck Wendig has awesome no-nonsense writing advice that’ll make you laugh out loud AND kick your ass. (It is very swear-y, so if you’re easily offended, rather stick to Strunk & White). Lots of free advice over at Terrible Minds or buy the books.

And as Adam Christopher‘s just reminded me, Stephen King’s On Writing is a brilliant memoir AND one of the best guides to how to write and, perhaps even more importantly, why we write.


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