I started writing in 1998, so as of this month I’ve been doing it for sixteen years. As such, I figure this is a good time to share some things I’ve learned during that period. Had I the ability to travel back in time to warn advise 13-year-old Jared Sandman, these are the nuggets of wisdom I’d impart to myself. Here are the top sixteen things I wish I’d known when I began. [I’ll break this up into four parts, because it’s fairly long.] Some are rather vague, while others are quite practical and specific. They’re in no order of importance, only the order they came to me while showering brainstorming.
1) There’s something broken inside you, which isn’t necessarily bad so long as you channel that energy constructively.
Every story is an expedition inside yourself, an opportunity to plumb the depths of your soul and stare into the heart of darkness. There’s a bottomless pit somewhere in those depths, which you can view in one of two ways: either it’s a yawning maw waiting to swallow you whole — or it’s the endless wellspring from which stories flow. Since you can’t fix what’s broken, at least monetize it.
2) Don’t be afraid to experiment (and fail).
Learning how to write well is largely a process of elimination. By figuring out how not to approach a story, you slowly zero in on what works. Harken Samuel Beckett’s advice: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Constantly challenge yourself to test new methods of storytelling. Utilize a new voice, style or point of view. Ply a fresh format: if you primarily write short stories, switch to a novel (or vice versa). Poems, comic books, screenplays, playwriting, take your pick. The same goes for bookselling tactics: experiment to find the optimum avenues to get your work into the world. Most of it won’t pan out, and that’s okay. Failure is a great teacher, if you’re willing to heed its instruction.
3) Trust your instincts. Rarely will they steer you wrong.
This applies equally to both the creative process and the publishing business. That voice in the back of your head that whispers This scene isn’t working or That character’s motivations are suspect, it’s there for a reason. That’s your inner critic, and you’ll form a very twisted Jekyll/Hyde relationship with him. You’ll hate him, only because he’s right. It’s best to rewrite the scene, recast that character. And if a business proposal sounds too good to be true, it is. Better to err on the side of caution rather than risk wading into a corporate quagmire. Many potential landmines await your next footfall. More than a few of them can be sidestepped by talking to colleagues who’ve previously navigated those same minefields.
4) No one can teach you writing better than yourself.
Writing teachers are fine. Lectures from guest authors or writers-in-residence are fine. Workshops and conventions are fine. But none of them teaches you more about writing than writing, the very act of composing stories and stringing sentences together like a popcorn strand. Listening about writing is not writing. Thinking about writing is not writing. Reading about writing is not writing (yes, including this post). Those other things can grease the wheels of creativity, but none of them will do the work for you.
Check back throughout the week as I post more lessons.