writing353

Back to it!

If there's one type of email I receive more than any other - aside from the very special "you're a wanker" ones - it's a variation of "can you please read my blog, article, essay, short story, novel" and tell me what you think.

Aside from a few appropriate cases, I tend to politely decline the invitation because I'd never get anything else done. Most importantly, however, it doesn't matter what I think or what anybody else thinks of your writing.

I reply to these people and offer: "If I said your book was crap - would you stop writing?"

If the answer is "yes", it's good you found that out now and can get a degree in something or a trade that will pay the rent.

A lot of people disagree with me, but I believe if you're penning something personal, which a novel invariably is, the writing should be its own reward.

This is what I regard as the difference between art - which every writer surely secretly aspires to - and all the other sorts of writing.

Writing in a newspaper or for an ad agency, in a fancy literary magazine or an email is about one thing only - communication.

If you fail to communicate what you intended to transmit to the recipient, you can pretty much call the writing a failure because it's all about the reader.

The other sort of writing is all about you - and the beauty of it is, it doesn't matter if the reader gets it or not because you're not sweating memories and pain and jubilation for them; it's for you.

If you want to publish this work, then compromises might have to be made, but they should never impede creation.

(Screenplays are a different bowl of chowder altogether. If you want to tell a personal story for the screen, good luck and prepare to have your heart stomped on by producers, directors, actors and film execs).

If you're really persistent and observant and learn your craft, what you write may one day reach the level of art.

And while I say it doesn't matter what other people think of your writing, one of the most valuable tools any writer can have is an honest, intelligent reader.

This is someone you trust with your most intimate thoughts, who is brave enough to tell you when they suck. It needs to be someone who enjoys the task and who doesn't feel put upon to read draft after draft after draft.

These people are worth their weight in gold. You must buy them much beer or wine.

Lastly, writing is about words, so if you don't love them, I suggest you try. Every time you see a word you can't accurately define, LOOK IT UP. Your vocabulary is one of the few things you should be actively trying to enlarge as you age. 

Without further ado, my five top tips for writers are:

Be honest: As Hemingway said, "write one true thing" and go from there. Write like no-one will ever read what you’re doing. If it makes you cringe or is embarrassing, that's the good stuff.

Be persistent: Nothing good gets written quickly. Chip away, do a little bit every day, get words on paper, even if it’s a few paragraphs. Ars longa, vita brevis - art is long, life is short.

Let yourself write crap: Don't be your own worst critic. Write, then put it away and worry about how good it is in three weeks' time. Rewriting is where you turn shit into chocolate.

Have fun: Elmore Leonard said if he wasn’t having fun writing it, people wouldn’t have fun reading it. (Unless, of course, you're writing a tragedy, then you should be sobbing when you write it).

Write the pieces: And let the puzzle solve itself. You don't always have to write chronologically and know what happens next.  Just write what you know has to happen, then fill the gaps in as you go.

Bonus tip:  Bugger the critics. As Mick Thomas from the band Weddings, Parties, Anything wrote: "Critics do as critics will, but did you ever hear one sing?"

Finally, buy some bum glue because there is no substitute for time spent sitting down, writing.

And no, tweeting is not writing.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.