I’ve been absorbing stories for nearly my entire life, but only recently have I really started writing. In an effort to catch up, I’ve read a few books on the craft of writing, I devour articles on writing, and I regularly search Twitter for anything with the #writetip tag to see what will resonate with me. There was a point in time where I was putting about twenty hours a week into researching writing. During that time I learned a great deal of things and I like to believe my writing has improved as a result of some of the reading I’ve done. I got stressed out pretty regularly; not every tip or suggestion I read resonated with me. Some didn’t even make much sense, while others seemed downright stupid or arrogant. Still others seemed…obvious and akin to basic writing, things almost anyone who had read a book and actually paid attention would know. All of this bothered me, I wondered if there was some kernel of hidden wisdom I wasn’t understanding.
In the end I learned to do one very important thing—I learned to take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt.
Writing styles, situations, motivation, free time, and life are just a few of the variables that factor into your ability to write. Tack all of this onto the fact that writing is an incredibly intimate thing and it becomes clear that what works for one writer may seem inane, or be completely impossible, to another. For example, I was reading (or listening to, I can’t recall) a segment on writing by Stephen King that said something along the lines of, “The first draft of any book, regardless of the length, shouldn’t take more than three months to write.” For a few months before this I was constantly beating myself up because I wasn’t writing enough. Then I got past it. I realized that I work 40 hours, sometimes more, a week. I spend about an hour and a half in transit a day, I try to exercise at least 20 minutes a day, I cook dinner regularly, I have two dogs that require attention, I like to play games, I like to have a social life, and I have a girlfriend I like to spend time with. Long story short, I love to write, but my time is limited and there are other things I like or need to do as well.
There is no way in hell I could write the novel I’m currently working on in 3 months. It’s going to be 100k+ words long, hopefully. The world, characters and story constantly evolve while I write it. I frequently go back and add notes to sections to add this in, or take that out. Between living the way I like to, I just simply don’t have the time to crank out 1,111 words a day (assuming three 30 day months.) Theoretically I do, because I write 1,000 to 1,200 words a day, but I don’t find the opportunity to sit down and write everyday. I really wish I did, but life happens. (I’m looking at you, Winter Olympics.)
I’ve read a bunch of other tips, tricks, and guidelines that just don’t work for me, but I’ve found a bunch of others that do. I’ve even discovered a few by myself. Another example: no one ever suggested using a Pomodoro timer to me; however, one night while I was having trouble focusing on writing I thought I might employ a strategy I use at work (I regularly use a Pomodoro timer at work, 25 minutes of work, then 5 minutes of goofing off.) I pulled out my smartphone and I turned on my Pomodoro timer. My focus instantly became razor sharp. For some reason knowing that after 25 minutes of work I could go tool around on the Internet for 5 minutes really made a huge difference for me. Why did this work, and why didn’t the others work? No idea. I’m a human. We’re complex, confusing(ed) things.
I’ve taken two simple words away from all of this: Just write. When it comes to writing, find out what works for you and take the advice of others with a grain of salt. This doesn’t mean completely ignoring any advice you get; by all means, if someone with experience gives you advice, it’s in your best interest to consider it. But considering it doesn’t mean you have to etch it in a stone tablet and consider it law. Instead, try it on, give it a test run, see how it suits you. If it doesn’t suit you? Don’t be afraid to toss it out and move on to the next piece of advice.