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On Writing

On how to be a writer

If you want to write then just do it. You don’t need an English literature degree or a diploma in creative writing. There are many professional writers who have never taken a writing course in their lives. Many flunked school or never had any support. Anna Todd started writing on her phone in the checkout queue at a supermarket. She was a 24 year old new mum, and worked to bring in money by babysitting and working at a beauty counter. She’s now a millionaire.

Writing takes discipline to sit down and put words on the page, it takes practice to hone the craft, and it takes time to build an audience. Successful writers didn’t get there overnight, and rarely with their first book. The book in your hand may have taken years of torturous crafting, and the fact that the writer didn’t stop when others would have done is the reason they have made writing their career.

In his later years Picasso was sitting in a Paris café when he was approached by a fan who asked him to draw a sketch on a napkin. Picasso drew a dove, then handed it to his admirer with the request for a large sum of money in return. ‘But, how can you ask for so much?’ the fan asked. ‘It only took you a minute to draw!’ To which Picasso replied, ‘No, it took me forty years.’

Procrastination is the enemy of writers, and in the age of the internet there are even more opportunities to be distracted. Share on X

Writing can take a lifetime. It’s not just the many years needed to perfect the craft, it’s the months and sometimes years needed to refine and polish a manuscript. Then there are the occasions that books are picked up and put down again, and the eternal time spent avoiding the actual process of sitting down and writing. Procrastination is the enemy of writers, and in the age of the internet there are even more opportunities to be distracted. 

My first completed novel took me nearly four years from inception to publishing, and it was one of the works I started comparatively recently. When I go back to my earlier novels, the ones I have started and stopped, over and over again, some of them will be decades in the making before they see the light of day. Often this is a good thing. The ideas are like fine wines, they need time to mature. But the truth is, maturation has to come in me. I need the time to gain new insights, new experiences, to bring more depth to my work. And I also need the time to develop my self-confidence, the knowledge that I can do this and shouldn’t wait any longer. There is always going to be something that is more important than sitting down and writing. Sometimes you need the perfect storm of motivation, confidence, focus, and sheer bloody-mindedness to make it happen. 

Write for love, write for fun. Write because you have stories clawing inside you to get out. Know that what you first write will be rubbish but don’t let that bother you. Don’t think about the money, don’t think about the future, just get your stories down on paper, and when they are ready, you’ll find your audience.