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I am an aspiring writer but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any pointers for beginning writers?
I’m a big fan of the author and radio host, Stuart McLean. A year or three back, McLean devoted a good part of his weekend broadcast to young writers. He shared a number of stories written by young people. And he gave a little advice to anyone thinking about taking up writing. His advice was both simple and direct: “If I am a writer and you’re not,” McLean said, “it’s because I write and you don’t.”
While there are lots of helpful tips and techniques out there for writing (Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction” and Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” are both deservedly famous), there is no secret which trumps McLean’s nuts and bolts wisdom: if you want to write, then sit down at your keyboard and get typing.
Four thoughts, Elizabeth, before you begin the frustrating and wonderful work of writing. First, not everything that you write is going to be especially profound. So, as Jesus and Bobby McFerrin both tell us, don’t worry. Some of your words will be awkward, some of them will be confused, some of them will be positively goofy. Some of your words will even bear a message to your readers that you don’t remember telling them to carry. And that’s okay. Long before “fail faster” became a buzz term in the business world, creative folks recognized that their mistakes were their teachers. Do the very best that you are able. And accept that your very best will rarely be perfection.
Second, there is nothing that will help you to write like a deadline. I am in awe of those people who can produce symphonies or sculptures or novels with no one expecting them. Most of us are not those people. Most of us only finish writing because our teacher or our editor or our congregation expects us to meet deadline. So, get someone who expects you to write. That might be as simple as finding a blogging partner and promising one another that you will post at least once every week. You may be surprised at just how much writing a lot improves your work.
Third, tell the truth. Even if your technique is a little shaky, even if your phrases are occasionally clichéd, it doesn’t much matter as long as you are telling the truth. If you are telling the truth, your readers will forgive you for not being Shakespeare. (Consider the authors whom you love, who just sing with wisdom and glory. A few of them may be technically brilliant. But I bet that you love most of them because they draw from that deep and old and beautiful well of truth.) Find, therefore, the places where you experience passion, where you experience grief, where you experience disorientation, where you experience joy. Where, in spite of everything, you find a truth that is home. And then put that experience on paper as faithfully as you are able.
Last of all, never forget that writing is a privilege. Asking people to give their attention to your work is a big deal. And participating in the work of creating beauty and possibility in this broken world is a big deal. Take that privilege seriously. And then start writing. Write with the goal of giving a gift to your reader, write with the goal of giving a gift to yourself, write with the goal of giving a gift to God.
Write like you mean it.
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