I don't usually read Good Housekeeping, but a GH story featuring Gone Girl novelist Gillian Flynn featured on my Facebook timeline today and I had a look. Flynn was describing how redundancy from her magazine journalism job was the kick she needed to really get focused on her writing.
After the success of Gone Girl she is now hot property, both as a novelist and as a screen-writer, as also she worked on the film adaption of the book.
This is a story that I have heard time and again from successful writers, yet there is an enormous global industry that has grown up around the millions of aspiring writers who dream of writing a Hollywood blockbuster or New York Times bestseller. Forums and groups offer encouragement, courses offer the set rules for a great novel, retreats offer the chance to let your thoughts flow as the sun sets over beautiful mountains.
But the reality in my opinion is that most of this 'support industry' exists because people are not actually writing - they are just thinking about writing. Of course there are some rules to writing great books. I listened to a course about fiction myself recently and found it was extremely insightful on the way most novels are structured, but even the instructor on this course reminded listeners that books do not just write themselves.
You can talk forever about how you are writing a book, but unless you are hammering out the words it is not really happening. The legendary British author Anthony Burgess argued that anyone who claims to be a writer should easily be able to generate 1,000 words a day.
At that rate, writers should be churning out two or three novels a year. Of course it's difficult for anyone to maintain such a regular uninterrupted flow, but 1,000 words is actually quite a modest daily target. The point Burgess was making is that writing is both an art and a craft. If you call yourself a professional writer then it's hard to justify requiring three years to create a novella even if you are 'wasting' time at book festivals rather than writing.
In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King recalls how he created his first book - the horror classic 'Carrie'. King was living in a trailer park with his wife and young children. There was no space. There was no peace. There was no time. Yet he had the ideas and he would write as and when he could. King says that if he waited for the opportunity to write Carrie on a writing retreat by the beach then it would never have happened.
I once wrote to the legendary poet Ted Hughes asking for a few ideas on how to write work that would sell. His hand-written note (incidentally just a few weeks before his death in 1998) featured the words: "...if you haven't written the work, of course it will never happen. The stuff has just to be written."
I see successful authors repeat these same words time and again and it has never been easier to write something, get it edited, and to publish it yourself. We all have the ability to at least see if people like our writing because publishing has become so easy today.
But this is the real difference between a writer and someone with an interest in writing. It is extremely easy to publish your work today and to see if it finds an audience, but so many people loiter in forums forever debating improvements and edits - yet never publishing.
It's time to give some respect to the bad writing we all see in stores such as Amazon, because at least those authors started a project, finished it, and published it. You might think their work sucks, but at least it's out there and available to the public.
So remember what all these successful said. Regardless of your own style or genre, if you don't actually get on and write it then it's never going to get published.
What do you think about the advice from these authors? Does their 'Just Do It' approach resonate with all aspects of life or is this especially true for creative activities, such as writing? Please do leave a comment here or tweet me...