how to be a writer

Rebecca Solnit has some great advice over on LitHub. But if you’re too busy to read the article, I’ve distilled it down to her main points.

  1. “Write. There is no substitute. Write what you most passionately want to write, not blogs, posts, tweets or all the disposable bubble wrap in which modern life is cushioned. But start small: write a good sentence, then a good paragraph, and don’t be dreaming of writing the great American novel…because that’s not what writing’s about or how you get there from here. The road is made entirely out of words.” I once cautioned a friend that she was diluting her writing prowess by blogging so prolifically. She and I differed on what writing prowess was, and she went on to be a blogger who doesn’t write much, while I went on to be a writer.
  2. “Remember that writing is not typing. Thinking, researching, contemplating, outlining, composing in your head and in sketches, maybe some typing, with revisions as you go, and then more revisions, deletions, emendations, additions, reflections, setting aside and returning afresh, because a good writer is always a good editor of his or her own work.” I am researching a book now that deals with the silk and spice routes.
  3. “Read. And don’t read. Read good writing, and don’t live in the present…Originality is partly a matter of having your own influences: read evolutionary biology textbooks or the Old Testament, find your metaphors where no one’s looking, don’t belong.”
  4. “Listen. Don’t listen. Feedback is great, from your editor, your agent, your readers, your friends, your classmates, but there are times when you know exactly what you’re doing and why and obeying them means being out of tune with yourself.”
  5. “Find a vocation. Talent is overrated, and it is usually conflated with nice style. Passion, vocation, vision, and dedication are rarer, and they will get you through the rough spots in your style when your style won’t give you a reason to get up in the morning…It starts with passion even before it starts with words.”
  6. “Time. It takes time.This means that you need to find that time. Don’t be too social. Live below your means and keep the means modest…don’t develop expensive habits or consuming hobbies.”
  7. “Facts. Always get them right. No one will trust you if you get your facts wrong…Fiction operates under different rules but it often has facts in it too, and your credibility rests on their accuracy.”
  8. “Joy. Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences…When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window…and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.”
  9. “What we call success is very nice and comes with useful byproducts, but success is not love, or at least it is at best the result of love of the work and not of you, so don’t confuse the two. The process of making art is the process of becoming a person with agency, with independent thought, a producer of meaning rather than a consumer of meanings that may be at odds with your soul, your destiny, your humanity, so there’s another kind of success in becoming conscious that matters and that is up to you and nobody else…”
  10. “It’s all really up to you, but you already knew that.”

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