What Struggling Writers Need to Know
May 30, 2014
OWEN EGERTON knows a thing or two about words.
He works with them.
He lives with them.
He understands them.
He’s always tracking down some new ones.
Egerton is an author, a performer, and a screenwriter.
And he doesn’t quite look at the world around him the same way most of us do.
Just look at his fiction.
A short story collection is entitled How Best to Avoid Dying.
His first novel was The Book of Harold, the Illegitimate Son of God.
And his last one is Everyone Says That at the End of the World.
He looks and sees with a different pair of eyes.
Egerton has always been intrigued with the Beat writer Jack Kerouac, who once typed out a list of thirty points that focused on his personal writing practices.
Some made sense to Egerton.
Some he considered nonsense.
So he wrote his own list of things he wanted to say to struggling writers.
I believed them every one. I stole them, and here they are:
- Write. Now. Go.
- Don’t think. Scribble. Scribble. Scribble. Type so hard you bruise the screen.
- Now think.
- Revise. Revise. Revise. Cut. Cut. Cut. Re-write. It is the sweat of the craft.
- Don’t always know what your images mean.
- Do always know what your sentences mean.
- Do not wait for inspiration. Go out and hunt it. Seduce it. Pin it down and dribble spit on its forehead until it cracks your leg bone and renames you.
- Writing takes time. Don’t find the time to write. Make the time. If necessary, abandon sleep, people, television, and drink.
- Treat writing like a hobby and you will receive nothing but the fruits of a hobby. It’s a vocation. Honor it as such.
- Don’t say you’re trying to be a writer. If you’re writing, then you are a writer. Publication is nice, but it has nothing to do with the definition.
- Love rejection. In letters, in criticism, in sales. Rejection is evidence you are in the game. If you’re striking out, it means you got up to bat.
- Drink and talk with those that write and create, but never mistake talking about writing with actual writing.
- Love solitude.
- Celebrate arrogance. You’re calling yourself a writer, for godsake. Embrace it.
- A person can only read so many words in a lifetime. Your reader is choosing to read you instead of Shakespeare, Hemingway, Whitman. Humbly honor that and give them the best of your soul.
- Do not write from answers. Write from questions. Discover more questions. Our work is not to explain the mystery, but to expand it.
- The craft of the sentence is important. But a perfectly crafted sentence with no passion is a well-dressed corpse. More fun to dance with a beggar than kiss a corpse.
- For a writer, the Internet is more dangerous than whiskey.
- Whiskey is pretty dangerous, too.
- Write what you know is bullshit. Reach beyond what you know, grasp for what is beyond your reach.
- The best fiction is magnificent failures. So fail magnificently.
- If your story isn’t worth telling a stranger in the bar, it’s not worth writing.
- In life, many of us aim to avoid conflict. In fiction, we force enemies into a room with no doors.
- Laugh out loud at your own written words. Even in public … especially in public.
- If you discover nothing while writing, don’t expect your reader to.
- Dream onto the page. I mean dream in every sense of the word. Wishing. Fantasizing. And the unconscious game of your un-thought thoughts bubbling into fragmented memories and shaping a narrative with elements of your life, but in a completely unexpected order and relationship.
- Live well. If your life is dull, it will seep into your pages like a stench. Take long walks. Get lost. Read. Read. Look foolish. Kiss people on the mouth.
- If you write because you believe the world needs you, you’ll soon discover we don’t. If you write because you are so naturally talented you must, you’ll soon discover you are not. If you write for money … I’m chuckling at you. None of these reasons will sustain you. Listen. Are you called to write? Then write.
- You are going to die. So are all your readers. Let this inform every story you write.
- Writing is both holy and meaningless. That’s all the pressure and freedom you need.
With neither shame nor malice, I stole his thoughts.
You might as well, too.
They certainly made sense to me.