Annoying Advice for Writers

As you will have worked out, Dear Reader, I have struggled to find time to do any writing for quite a long time.  This has been due to an overwhelming workload.   Overwork stops you writing in lots of different ways.  It physically prevents you writing because you don’t have enough time, or just a few isolated oases, then nothing at all for weeks and weeks.  It wears you out so that you can’t write even when you do have some time; right now, I’m exhausted and trying to persuade myself that I really don’t have a headache.  Another thing is that your head becomes filled with work rubbish, like what you need to do tomorrow and which meaningless statistics you have to provide next.  All this garbage pushes out the stories that normally go round and round in your brain, so that you have nothing in there to write.

What all this is leading up to is that I do get very irritated with all those writing pundits who tell me that I MUST findGirl writer lying on grass time to write EVERY DAY.  Indeed, I’m not a proper writer unless I do Write Something Every Day.  Write anything they say, even if it’s rubbish.  You don’t have the time?  Well, here’s an idea.  Do it early in the morning, before you do anything else.

Yeah right.  I’ll think about all those proper writers writing their daily pages, as I drag myself out of bed, push my breakfast down my throat, fall into the car, then struggle through traffic so as to arrive at college at 8am and start teaching at 9am.  And I don’t have young children anymore.  Even my daughter, who is a real writer (a journalist), cannot type a single word until she has got up my grandson, given him his breakfast and taken him to daycare.

I don’t doubt for one moment that the Write Something Every Day advice works for a lot of writers – even though I’ve never been in a position to try it out.   Practice makes perfect – sometimes, but not just writing by yourself to yourself, as most of us need to learn from others as well.

Another standard bit of advice is to keep subbing, anyhow, anyway – the scattergun approach – even though there are loads of disheartened wannabe writers out there who have never had anything published.    Moreover, entering lots of comps can be very expensive.

Old fashioned writer thinkingThis leads into the next pearl of wisdom:  read the publications you intend to sub to.  Well, yes, but – again – that’s not the whole story, is it?  You can read magazines and ezines and longer works until you’re blue in the face but be none the wiser.  If you end up thinking, “Well, they take anything really,” you haven’t picked up anything at all.  Moreover, you can’t assume that, because the editor has just published something like your writing that he/she will accept your piece.  He/she might reject it because it’s too similar to the other story.  Although there is an element of luck to what gets accepted and what isn’t, there is more to placing stories than reading:  you need to analyse length, points of view, genres, themes, male/female mcs, age of mcs and general philosophy, but the pundits never tell you that.

‘Write about what you know’ is another gem.  How boring is that?  My life and experiences haven’t been all that interesting.  I’m always fascinated, and want to write about, things that are unfamiliar and even exotic.

Moan over.  What do other writers think?   I’m going to read the newspaper now, before I go to bed in readiness for getting on to the daily grind again tomorrow morning.

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5 thoughts on “Annoying Advice for Writers

  1. I don’t write every day. I write on far more days than I don’t write and often if I don’t write I do something else writing related, but I have days (sometimes several together) where I don’t do anything writing related.

    I sub a lot too – but only when I think there’s a chance of the piece being accepted or placed. Subbing work you’re not confident about must be very disheartening and I doubt editors and judges will be impressed.

    I do read many of the magazines I sub too. You’re right that sending in stuff very like a piece they’ve just used probably isn’t a good idea, but reading the magazines does help get a feel for what they want. Plus I enjoy them – if I didn’t I don’t think I could write in that style.

    As for writing what we know when we have ordinary lives – well I’m halfway through an article on the subject!

  2. I’ve been reading the newspaper every day for nearly six weeks. I recommend tranquilisers/strong drink/ exercise to work off the grrrrrs!
    But seriously, I sympathise, I’ve had some serious time on my hands, still have, but can’t make myself write if my heart doesn’t feel it’s the right moment. My irritating advice is, just do it when it feels good. (Subbing btw confused me – now I realise that it means submitting – of course I’m old school editing where subbing means sub-editing – now I realise I have been both confused by its use and confusing by using it in a misleading way – thanks for sorting that one out!) M

  3. Thanks for your comments, Patsy and MOH.

    Patsy, I’m sure that enjoying reading the publications you sub to is a large part of your success and we will all look forward to reading your article on writing about ordinary lives.

    MOH, I do appreciate that you are undergoing a period of enforced non-busyness, the opposite end of my spectrum. However, reading the paper every day is one of my routines and would be whether I wrote or not. Sorry about the terminology; my daughter the journalist talks about ‘subbing’ meaning sub-editing too.

  4. I think you underrate yourself and the amount of writing you actually manage to do given the intensity of your current workload. When I was submitiing stories to women’s magazines, I read their publications religiously and still couldn’t get it right. Was going to comment on your up-coming retirement, but the post seems to have disappeared. Is this deliberate?

    1. Retirement post was withdrawn because I accidentally showed it on whiteboard in front of class of students. I didn’t want my managers reading some of my comments.

      Re the writing, I do try but I’m exhausted most of time.

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