The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received

I’ve had absolutely no time to look at my novel lately. That’s what comes from starting a new business. (For those of you new to this blog, I have my own proofreading, editing and writing business. Check me out at www.bellbirdwords.com.) I’m so busy proofreading, editing and writing other people’s material that I have no time to do the same to my own. I shouldn’t complain, really. I’ve got so much work I hardly have time to fit it all in. Of course, this could just be beginner’s luck. Check back in three months’ time and you may find me sharpening my pencils for the 100th time and circling all the redundant apostrophes on the cereal packets.

My novel-in-progress is always at the back of my mind, lingering like a neglected lover. It’s often the last thing I think about at night as I drift off. I consider edits and additions as I’m running. I had a brilliant idea for improving Chapter One in the shower the other day. But those long stretches of time I so badly need to actually finish the damn thing? Ha. Don’t make me laugh. I know they’ll come around again when I’ve moved on from this crazy, I-have-to-do-everything-perfectly-and-right-now start-up phase. It’s just that for the foreseeable future, the business is the priority.

Here’s the problem. I maintain a Facebook page on which I share the posts on this blog, as well as (hopefully) interesting and useful tidbits on all things literary. I also subscribe to some fantastic pages, all to do with writing, or creativity, or proofreading/editing, or exceptionally rude Irish jokes. (I’m from Armagh. How could I not?)

(BRIEF DIVERSION: If you haven’t Liked my Facebook page yet, kindly take a moment to click on the pretty birdy to the right and up a bit. Altogether now…click. That’s it.)

But each time I log in, there are more and more and more useful tips and hints and articles and webinars and checklists and “Top Ten” lists and giraffes (just threw that one in to make sure you’re paying attention) and “How To’s” and Writing Kickstarts and inspirational quotes and…excuse me while I take a moment to imitate the tortured figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream. And then pour myself a vat of wine.

If you have a slightly obsessive personality like me, you’re particularly susceptible to this constant stream of “things you must read, digest and put into practice or you will never succeed as a writer and even if you do read them you still may not succeed because, let’s face it, you’re no [insert name of favourite famous author here].”

It’s exhausting.

The good news is, I was given an invaluable piece of writing advice some time ago that has helped me to approach writing in a way that is infinitely more helpful than any “how-to” article or writing course.

Back then, I was at a point where writing was becoming more of a pressure than a pleasure; something “to work at” rather than a joy. I believed I had to write every day without fail or my laptop would spontaneously combust. Ditto for poring over every piece of writing advice on the internet and reading widely and exhaustively from every genre in every moment that I wasn’t writing.

Here’s the advice I was given:

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

In other words, there is no right way, so write your way. You don’t have to follow any rules if you don’t want to. You can write furiously for one week then not at all for a month, if that works for you. You can write every day religiously for twenty minutes or every fortnight for ten. You can go to classes and workshops and festivals or you can stay at home and…write. You can start your own business and not look at your almost-finished manuscript for six months (sigh), then come back to it and realise how brilliant it is and publish it to international acclaim. (Sorry, got a bit carried away there.) The point is, people who issue writing advice don’t live your life. You live your life. You get to write the instruction manual.

Note: I am not against working hard and writing hard. Writing regularly, reading lots, honing your craft, perfecting your manuscript, taking advice, aiming high: I’m onboard with all of that. I’ve got a pretty healthy portfolio of published work, and I’ve nearly written my first novel, which has taken hours and hours and hours of planning and writing and revising and scheming and deleting and crafting.

But ultimately, I want to write with joy, and I want to love it more than feel the strain of it. I want writing to remain my playground.

I would urge you to be discerning in what writing advice you listen to. Question everything. Make your own path. Then write about it.

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2 Comments on “The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received”

  1. Amanda Edwards July 12, 2015 at 10:01 pm #

    What great advice. I love your blog comments … don’t know how you find the time to do it. Congratulations on being so busy in your business. Something is clearly going well 🙂

    • Patricia July 13, 2015 at 4:44 am #

      Thanks Amanda. Checked out your blog, by the way. Liked it. 🙂

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