Four Critical Points for Writers

Lately I’ve been getting the vibe that a lot of people out there are feeling newly inspired about their writing. Maybe it’s just spring coming on. I dunno. But I do know that the subject of writing and writers is near to my heart (not to mention my everyday work life). So, for what it’s worth, this is for anyone out there lately feeling moved by the writing muse to do your/her/its thing.

1. Be insanely brave. Real writing is no place for people-pleasers and/or congenital followers. Either have the nervy verve to get out ahead of the pack, or lie down so at least the pack doesn’t trip rampaging over you. Say what you know other people are thinking—sometimes before they even know they’re thinking it. Believe that you have to offer a new perspective, a new modality of perception, a whole new paradigm. Don’t be afraid. Think boldly. Write passionately. Keep coming at ’em.

2. Think of yourself as an artist. Dive so far down inside your soul you reach that crazy dark place where all the rules are broken and real art is born. Stay in that place. Draw your ink from that well. Don’t think of yourself as a writer. Think of yourself as an artist whose principal medium is words.

3. Care about you only. If you write in hopes that others will like what you write (or, heaven forfend, like you for writing it), get yourself another hobby. Writing’s not your game. Write what you write for you, period. If others like it, yay. If not, love them, wave good-bye to them, and get back to your work. Write to find out who you are, what you think, what you feel. Trust that if you’re terribly honest about articulating your personal, richest truths, then what you say will resonate with others, because at that point you’ll be ringing the common bell.

4. Know your mechanics. Passion, art, courting inspiration, riding the tornado of the moment: all perfect and indispensable to the process. But in the end a writer who doesn’t know the grunt mechanics of punctuation, grammar, and syntax is like the professional sniper who’s never fired a gun: something’s gone hinky somewhere. If, for instance, you’re not perfectly sure of how and when to use a semicolon, then don’t write another word until you are. (See my When Punctuation Goes Really, Really Wrong.) That stuff’s not that hard to learn. Don’t undermine your art by failing to master your craft.

For more on this subject, see my How To Make a Living Writing.

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  • JG

    Good stuff, John, from one who does it so well.

  • Awesome. Pretty much already follow that stuff by default. I mean, I don’t really write for a living yet – I just have stories and novels that I just write to get out. (I actually did have an analogy here, but it’s pretty gross).

    Bravery – yes. Just about everything I write is…. well, weird. And I know that it’s weird, but I don’t care because I’m pretty much just writing the stuff that I want to write. In fact, when I’m petioning agents and publishers on the off-chance one of them’s going to take a chance on an unknown, I sometimes have trouble trying to *define* my work. “Is this more Fantasy, Sci-Fi or is it more Philosophical? Does the youth of the protagionists qualify it to be a Young Adult piece, or did I put too much blood in that middle chapter?”

    As far as the last bit…. I’d say READING is a good teacher. I’ve known people who’ve tried to write as a hobby who “rote liek tihs” and had no grasp on coherent plot structure or beliveable characterization because they, by their own admission, didn’t read very much. (One of my hobbies is fan fiction – mostly for gaming and anime and some people think if you’re writing for games or TV series that all you need is a love of the series and don’t actually have to read…. you know… books as a hobby).

  • Brighid Rose

    amazing timing for this!! i used to write “back in the day” and it’s been bugging me again lately. so last night i set up a blog account (now to figure it out). i just sat down at my computer to start writing, after having some soup and checking FB…and there this was! 🙂 it’s just beautiful the way things happen sometimes!

  • excellent advice John.

    I’ve been perusing the well that is my soul, knowing that it is where my creative spirit lies. There is a lot of dark stuff in there, bad memories, failed dreams, lost hopes, but also rich flavors, brilliant insights and amusing interludes. I am working my way over the lip of that well, so I can stand on a rickety bucket, and lower myself downward with a rope that I hope isn’t too frayed. I will either find the priceless treasure of the passion that will keep me fingers busy at my keyboard while beautiful words appear on my monitor, or I will find that it is just dark and damp down there.

  • Good stuff here, John.

    Also, if you’re thinking of writing seriously, read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It’s a truly outstanding book on the art of writing.

  • I need to purchase that book. That is the third time this week, I have heard that book mentioned.

  • Thanks John, I will be retiring soon and hope to devote some time to writing. I appreciate your 4 critical points. I know from reading your stuff that you really do follow them.