Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ian's anti-rules of writing

• What does it take to be a writer? Something to say. That’s it. It’s amazing what anyone can piece together if they’re motivated enough to put it down.

• Writing is like an exercise regimen — tough to get into, but even harder to shake once it’s a habit. And you’ll be sexier for the effort.

• It’s also like therapy. Whether you want to tell the whole world how you feel, keep it in a private journal or tear it up and toss it forever, writing is a surprisingly effective release of high emotions far less likely than other releases to harm you or land you in jail.

• Being a writer is like having a third eye, a second mouth, six extra fingers and 12-pack abs in your head — people may look at you funny, but you have superpowers.

• No one is a writer all of the time, but everyone is some of the time. This is why writing is so wonderfully infinite, but also why “writer” is the least impressive job title ever.

• Writing is like sex or pooping — a powerful, persistent urge that isn’t likely to define you unless you’re legendary at it. And just like with groin-based adventures, inspiration often strikes in the middle of the night and you have to be ready to take matters into your own hands.

• The worst writers make it a point to be a writer. Writing is a mechanical thing. You aren’t going to be interesting if all you ever do is sit at the keyboard. Live, or at least invent, a life worth writing about.

• Writer’s block is exaggerated. If you’re able to turn away from the blank page before you and have a conversation with someone, then you aren’t blocked; you just have to shift your focus a little. Many times, I’ve started something, stalled and then observed some tiny, unrelated thing that inspired 1,000 words. Hell, I’ve even written extensively about writer’s block itself.

• Try not to confuse writer’s block with writer’s constipation. Having too much to say can hinder you as much as having nothing to say. Take it one thought at a time and you should be all right.

• Sitting in a coffeehouse with a laptop doesn’t make you a writer. But if it gets you writing, do it! Or anything else that arouses your muse. I promise not to judge.

• Write like your audience is a million people. And they’re all adoring fans.

• They won’t all be fans, though. Not if you’re any good.

• Only a fraction of critics will be worth your time — the ones who come from a place of respect. They’ll want to help you make your work better, even if you don’t always agree with them. If someone just calls you a hack or some other juvenile name, what they’re really saying is, “I lack the talent and courage to create anything of my own, so I’m going to reach into third grade and spew the first insult that comes out.”

• Also, ignore the pretentious critic who insists the problem with your work is that it doesn’t sound enough like they wrote it. They can write their own stuff if they want to marry it so much.

• Some of the most amateur feedback I ever received was from professionals. Just like you, they’re human beings sometimes on their A-game and sometimes knee-deep in snarky indifference. You can generally feel out the difference and go from there.

• That said, if someone commissions writing from you, work with them. You’re among the lucky ones.

• If someone spends months and years trolling you, put that on your résumé. That person isn’t an enemy; they’re a reference! No one expends that much energy hating something that sucks.

• Your mom will like your work because she’s your mom. Which is why if she hates it, you should burn it right away.

• One of the worst (and clichéd) traits of a writer is to try to sound smart — true intelligence isn’t forced. Smart people can weave 1-cent words into gold. Faux-smart people use 50-cent words to hide that they’re short of a dollar. (Actually, that’s true of life in general. Spread the word.)

• Don’t be afraid to play with language and style. Most rules of writing assume you’re a fifth-grader doing a group assignment. If you aren’t, forget the rules. And about half of the fifth-graders can forget it too.

• Still, spelling and grammar are important. Using them properly reflects well upon you. So does deliberately using them improperly. Just don’t be wrong.

• Read a lot — it’s the literary equivalent of a cheat code. It’ll boost your writing skills so much that it teeters on being unfair.

• Understand that everything you write won’t be gold nuggets — a lot of it will be mine dirt. The Beatles, Saturday Night Live and the Bible all have heaps of irrelevant gibberish. Anything or anyone with memorable lines does.

• Readers may interpret your work differently than you intend. Accept it. Hell, embrace it.

• Stop reading this and go do your thing. That’s most important.

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