A writer’s tips on using writing tips

Write 500 words a day, no more, not less. Or 2000. Or don’t bother with word counts, that’s all bollocks, write for two hours a day. Or four. Plan every chapter meticulously, but don’t plan anything at all because it’s got to be spontaneous. You must write in the morning, it’s the most creative time of the day, studies have proved it. Except for the evening, the magic only happens after midnight, everyone knows that.

Why can’t we just write? Why do we have all of this advice out here, why bother to construct complex methodologies and individual rituals?

That all this advice is contradictory does not mean it is not of use. More critically, it does not mean that some are right and some are wrong. They all serve to provide possible solutions to the problems of writing. We can spend so much time picking through writerly advice, sharing top ten lists, debating one set of techniques over another, that we can lose sight of the problems they are trying to solve. And if you haven’t properly considered the problem, you can’t find the solution to fit it.

It’s important to return to first principles every once in a while; to remember just what it is that makes writing so difficult. Some of the bigger ones just in the drafting stage include:

  • Fear of the blank page at the start of the day
  • Exhaustion, disillusionment, and losing momentum part way through a project
  • Idea not fully realised, and insufficiently complex to sustain a novel
  • Characters and world insufficiently developed
  • Lapsing into cliche

You shouldn’t be writing in a particular way because Hemingway tells you to. Writing methods are not rituals to be followed in the hope that the Gods will be favourable to you. They are practical solutions to difficult problems, not secret techniques that will magically make you a great writer.

It’s useful to see how others have approached these problems, but if you obsess too much over deciding on one approach over another, you are like a man hesitating between a bucket of water and a bucket of sand when his kitchen is on fire. Both will work, one might even be marginally better than the other depending on circumstance, but the important thing is to get on with it before the whole house burns down.

Identify problems, improvise solutions, and accept there is no “right” answer to writing. There is only what works.