One of the students in my class at Youthwrite camp last week asked me: “If you could give only one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be?”
My answer: Never give up.
Keep writing, no matter what. Write every day. Make a habit of it so strong that if a day goes by when you don’t get to write, you suffer withdrawal symptoms.
If you’re like me you probably started writing in the first place because it was fun. Then, when you get more serious about it, writing gets harder. Keep at it even when it isn’t fun, when you’d rather be doing something else. It will get fun again.
Most beginning writers think they’re better at it than they really are. An important moment in one’s writing life comes when you admit you’ve got a long way to go. When you face that daunting gap between the writing you’re capable of and the amazing work you want to accomplish. Many would-be writers give up at this point.
Keep at it.
If you stick with it, there are plenty of other hurdles. The days when you don’t feel like writing, or when other responsibilities and commitments eat up your writing time. Those creative dry spells when you feel like the worst writer in the world and you have nothing to write about anyhow.
Keep at it.
Sometimes you finish a piece and send it out and it gets rejected. This happens to every writer. It hurts. Sometimes your writing gets rejected over and over again before it finds a home. Sometimes it never does.
And when you do get something published, or publish it yourself, you may have to face criticism, misunderstanding, mockery. Maybe even hatred.
That is, if you can get someone’s attention. There will be times when you know you’ve written something worthwhile, something beautiful and valuable and true, and the world doesn’t notice. There are a lot of books out there, not to mention all the movies, games, television shows, websites…
Indifference might be the most toughest hurdle of them all: to keep writing when it seems that what matters to you matters to no one else.
Keep at it.
Don’t give up. Never give up. If you’re stuck or blocked, remember that hitting a wall is actually a necessary part of the creative process. Go do something else for a while, and while you’re taking a break, the part of your mind that you can’t consciously access will still be busy working on the problem and coming up with a solution. Trust that your mind will find the way. The ideas will flow again. They always do.
If you’re discouraged by rejection letters, or bad reviews, or no reviews at all, keep working. Keep sending your work out. Keep learning and improving. We all have creativity within us, but most people never know it’s there or make use of it. You’ve found that spark in you, and that is the real reason for all the hard work, not money or fame or the approval of others. The reward of writing is to grow that spark into your own unique vision, whether it reaches five people or five million.
Never give up.
Oh, and one other bit of advice: Read. Read everything. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Read outside your favourite genre. Far outside. Devour a good book and then go back and read it again, slowly, with a pen, making note of all those passages where you were amazed, moved, transported, where the writer had you in thrall, body and soul. How did she work that magic? Reading like a writer is as much a craft as writing like one.
Illustration: detail from Blizzard at Cape Denison, Antarctica, c. 1912.