the guardian asked zadie smith, one of a handful of contemporary writers, to comment on her rules for writing. since i found zadie’s list to be depressing, pessimistic, and utterly without joy, i wrote my own. keep in mind that i am not an award-winning published author, although that doesn’t mean i’m not also a writer.
1. write first thing in the morning every day, before you get out of bed. let whatever is in you come out in its own way, whether it’s last night’s dream or a memory of something that happened in childhood. these writings will help you find your voice, and serve as creative fodder when you sit down later at the blank page.
2. always carry a pen and paper, preferably one of those small journalist notebooks that can be pulled out surreptitiously in public. record what people say, do, an image/sound/smell that moves you. these will come in handy as prompts when you write.
3. acknowledge that writing is an act. understand that to be a writer, one must do this action as often as possible while also suspending judgment of the nature, purpose and quality of the writing. excessive self judgment, doubt and criticism are hindrances to the creative process. and as an activity, one must maintain a healthy body to write effectively. this means taking regular breaks to avoid neck/back pains and carpal tunnel, as well as eating healthy snacks while writing.
4. share your writing in a safe and supportive environment. this can be with a close friend, significant other, or a peer writing group, but make sure the person(s) you share it with respect(s) and want(s) the best for you. avoid exposing yourself to unnecessary censure or criticism, as this can send your writer self into hiding.
5. laugh, cry, live, love. your life is fodder for your work, so be sure and live it to its fullest. but remember that you must not also have lived it in order to write it, so be bold.
6. take long walks in nature. breathing fresh air clears my head while the walking allows my thoughts to wander, gather, and collect themselves. i’ve fixed many a difficult passage this way!
7. no matter how uncomfortable you feel, write on. this one i’m borrowing from stephen king. he says that what makes a writer is her ability to write even when she feels like she’s ‘shoveling shit onto the page’. the point is to keep at it when the going gets tough. being a writer, or any other kind of artist, means being able to sit with your discomfort and move through it for the sake of the work. what you leave behind when you’re done may later help someone else deal with their own experiences.
8. embrace fearlessness. writing is not for the faint of heart. so be bold and write what you really mean to say, not what you think other people want to read. if it comes from your heart, it will resonate with others.
9. write now, edit later. one of the biggest hurdles for me to get over as a writer has been turning off my inner editor and allowing my writing to flow. having read lots of articles and books on flow, i’ve learnt that this editor (really the superego) is the single greatest obstacle to creativity. the key to writing is productivity as opposed to slippery concepts like talent or perfection. so keep your pen moving, and you’ll be fine.
10. publish your work. this is not a hard and fast rule, nor is publishing a necessary end of writing. but if you’re reading this blog, you’re likely not from among the elite privileged classes of the world (or are you?). published writers from outside this class are vastly underrepresented. and i believe it is incumbent upon those of us with the ability and desire to publish our work to go ahead, so that others might read them. and if you’re still waiting for permission to tell your story: granted. –AL.