My New Philosophy

Note: You might want to listen to P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass” while reading this. It’ll get you in a suitably rebellious mood.

I have been listening to a lot of well-intentioned writing advice lately. The voices have been telling me how I should be writing, when and for how long. They’ve been telling me I’ll probably never be published by a traditional publishing house. That I should be blogging and Facebooking and Tweeting regularly. That I should “show, not tell”. That I should underwrite rather than overwrite. That I should knuckle down and write even when I don’t feel like it. That I should buy those $450 red boots I saw in Overland the other day (oops, hang on, that was another voice.) There is also an indigenous wee whisper telling me that as a New Zealand writer my work should have a distinctly New Zealand “flavour”, preferably with lots of Maori place names and mentions of native flora and fauna scattered throughout. (Those are the ones that seem to get published, anyway.)

I’ve probably offended someone by now. If that’s not you, keep reading.

I’ve also been reading websites/articles/blogs in which people proclaim with a kind of religious fervour that writing is their life, and they could no more stop writing than they could stop breathing. (And at that point I wish that they would. Stop breathing, I mean.)

As a result I end up feeling hopelessly inadequate, unsure of myself and so overwhelmed by all the “shoulds” that I lose sight of my “want” – to write in a way that is genuinely me, naked and vulnerable, and to rejoice in the experience. (Not literally naked, you dirty little minx.)

Warning: Oprah Admission coming up. Tissues at the ready.

All my life I have been afraid to forge my own path, thinking I have to adhere to a set of rules outside myself, created by somebody else, in order to “do” this thing called life correctly. This philosophy has held me back in all sorts of ways that I won’t bore you with here. (But buy me a drink sometime and I’ll bore you to tears.)

I’m happy to report that I am slowly learning a new philosophy. It’s called: The Old Philosophy Was a Load of Bollocks.

Maybe I’m the sort of writer who reads her favourite books and magazines and then spills out 2000 words a day in a frenzied burst of creativity for a week and then goes back to reading. Maybe I prefer writing short stories because a novel is just too fecking difficult right now. Maybe I don’t want to write like a “New Zealand” writer; maybe I prefer to celebrate my Celtic roots because that is where my heart really lies. Maybe I like overwriting and I don’t believe less is necessarily more. (As a good friend pointed to the other day, “Why should you edit beautiful writing to smithereens all the time? It’s like picking a gorgeous bunch of wildflowers and then throwing some of them away just for the sake of it. Why not keep the whole sumptuous, crazy, beautiful bunch?”)

And you know what? I don’t want writing to be my life. I want life to be my life, and sometimes I want to write in it and through it and about it. But there are other things that mean as much and more to me.

Here’s one of my favourite quotes:

“Traveller, there is no path. The path is made by walking.”

It is up to you to forge your own writing style; to carve out your own unique path. It will look like no-one else’s, and it certainly won’t adhere to all the “rules.” Instead of fighting it, embrace it and walk it with pride.

And one more thing: Any other perfectionists out there? Raise your hands, please (on a perfect 180 degree angle). Perfectionism kills the writing impulse just as surely as halitosis will stop a snog. It holds you back from even trying because the image you have in your head will never match up to the reality you will (at first) get down on paper.

Perfectionism laughs every time it stops another writer putting finger to keyboard. So smash that chuckling sonofabitch right in the face and go write something raw and passionate and uncensored and (probably) dreadful. You can edit it later.

P.S. Having said all this, I wrote 800 words of my novel today as well as finishing a new short story. And you thought I was just finding excuses…

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