“Nora Ephron, the famous screenwriter, once said – ‘When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.’” Writer and editor Anniki Sommerville shares five excellent writing tips to help get you started…
I should set this up by saying that I’ve read quite a lot of books on writing – the craft itself, how to do it best, what kind of routines and schedules to set yourself etc. Then I’ve promptly ignored most of those tips. I would say that one of the best books on writing (that I’ve felt inspired by) is; ‘On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft’ by Stephen King.
One of the things that stuck with me was the fact King said writers need to be selfish. This can be a toughie as a parent, and there have been many times when I’ve told my daughter to leave me alone so I can write. This hasn’t made me feel good at the time but I also think it’s important for her to realise that there are things I’m passionate about outside my life with her.
And writing is definitely one of those things.
So here are my five writing tips and observations…
It’s normal to procrastinate
Usually when I sit down to tackle a writing project, I’ll find about fourteen other tasks to do before I can start. Today has been typical with an invoice to sort, a food shop to order, hustling mails to clients and the like. Sometimes I have to remind myself that writing is something I enjoy and is not a punishment. This possibly stems back to our school days when we were forced to write when we didn’t feel like it. Don’t feel bad about getting other stuff done – apart from anything you need to get all that admin crap out the way in order to think more clearly (or that’s what I tell myself anyway).
Most of us are not lucky enough to have a ‘sacred writing space’
There is an awful lot of gorgeous ‘desk porn’ on social media, and whilst I envy those who have a separate space to write in, I also know that it doesn’t make or break you as a writer. Before my daughter was born I renovated our garden shed, put a chaise longue in the corner, and inspirational postcards of female authors on the walls. I thought I’d be a female Roald Dahl and live in there. It didn’t happen. The shed was cold, and I felt too removed from normal life. I also spent a lot of time researching the perfect writing chairs, desks and apps. Now when I write I’m either in bed or at the kitchen table. The shed is full of baby crap that I can’t bring myself to throw out but the fading postcards serve as a reminder to GET REAL. Writing is about being in the thick of it. Don’t put it off because you haven’t got the perfect desk.
I also write a lot on public transport. I am a big fan of little and often. If you have a seat, and a lightweight laptop then you’re good for half an hour, and half an hour is better than nothing.
This is a biggie but the truth is that you only get better through doing. I read a lot of writing as the editor of Selfish Mother and I can see first-hand how people progress. Don’t expect too much of yourself right away. Just do it regularly. Do it every day. Do it and you’ll see that you’re getting better. It’s that simple. So many people tell me that they want to write and I say – ‘well why not write then?’
Get it out there
I remember bumping into the prolific broadcaster and writer Emma Gannon a couple of years ago and I told her I was a writer. ‘Oh, so where can I read your stuff?’ she asked. I mumbled something about some of it being online and having four completed novels on my laptop. ‘Get it out there!’ she said, ‘Or otherwise how is anyone going to actually read it?’
This seemed quite radical to me at the time as I thought someone would come into my home, turn my laptop on, discover my novel and offer me millions of pounds to publish it. I now put a lot of work online. I don’t want all my writing to be discovered in a skip, put it that way.
Remember writing is therapeutic
Lots has been written about journaling and how it can shift your mind-set. The truth is whatever is going on in your life, it all looks more manageable when it’s written down. Nora Ephron, the famous screenwriter, once said – ‘When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.’ We all have miserable stuff that happens to us, but writing is a good way to own that story, to feel more empowered and to get it OUT of your system. This might not be the writing that you want to publish, but it serves a deeper, restorative function in your life.
I write most when I’m unhappy or under stress. I find that a half hour of writing is better than pretty much anything (including wine or fantasising about Josh Homme from Queens of The Stone Age).
So, there you go. Stephen King also says you should read a lot of novels if you want to write. I think I’ve taken his advice too literally, and need to read less now.
If you only take away one thing away from these tips then let it be this…write, write some more, and then write again.
Keep doing it.
What writing tips have helped to get you started? We’d love to hear them in the comments below…