So, aspiring writers everywhere, the very first thing I have to say is stop ‘aspiring’. You don’t ‘aspire’ to get out of bed - you get out of bed. You either write or you don’t, simple as that. The only caveat I’ll give is, of all the things you should aspire to, being a better writer is one of them. I’m not allowing complacency here, don’t think I’ve started being nice, because being a better writer takes hard work - so register the aspiration and get toiling.
Almost everyone wants to be a writer, possibly almost everyone could be, so what makes you different? What’s your USP? (Don’t answer that last question, I don’t need to know.) What you need to know is that the only way to find your voice, to be different and to express yourself fully, is to write with integrity. Don’t try to become ‘like’ another writer, don’t force yourself to write in a style that isn’t you; however much you might want it to be. Just write, see what happens. That’s you right there on the page. If anything sounds corny, maybe you unconsciously stole it from somewhere. How would you say it? Write it again in your own voice.
Make sure you understand the rules though, don’t go thinking grammar is ‘old hat’ and doesn’t apply to your modern take on society. That’s great and everything, but unless you’ve published ten best sellers no publisher will touch you with a barge pole if you’ve not learnt the rules. Once you have, then start breaking them.
Now I’m going to tell you how to get published.... Right place, right time, right publisher, decent finished manuscript. You might be hailed the next Shakespeare ten years after you’ve snuffed it, that’s life. It’s a bitch. Point is, there is no true path, there is no magic wand. You have to keep trying and on the plus side, you probably have more chance of getting published than winning a million on the lottery. Don’t give up the day job and while you’re stacking shelves in Sainsbury, plan your next chapter.
You’re rubbish, I’m rubbish, that novel you just finished reading - that’s rubbish too. You will have days feeling like an amateur. You will look back at what you’ve spent months or years writing and think its the biggest pile of crap you’ve ever seen. Maybe it is, maybe tomorrow you’ll love it again. Maybe tomorrow you’ll still think it’s awful and at the same time a publisher will be reading it thinking ‘this is really good!’ That book you just finished reading; the author will probably have had these exact same thoughts somewhere along the line. Let it pass, put it down, come back later. Keep writing.
On the other hand, there are people out there who will reject you: Agents, editors, reviewers, readers, even boyfriends and husbands, will say things you don’t want to hear. Stop crying, take it on the chin, absorb the constructive bits of criticism and carry on. If you give up you’re no longer a writer - is that an option? No. Don’t fall for jealousy either. Some of your writer buddies may get published. Once you’ve had the party and slapped them on the back, brace yourself for the stab of envious pain - ‘Why oh why isn’t it me?!!’ You didn’t get lucky. Get over it, keep trying.
Keep writing and finish it. No I don’t want to hear how you’re unsure about the plot, or the characterisation, just finish it. If you don’t you won’t know how it ends or what you missed out in the middle. If you get in the habit of leaving things unfinished, pretty soon everything will be unfinished.
If you’re a writer, you write because you have to, because to not write feels wrong. It can be a thankless, solitary, badly paid, unsociable pursuit. On the plus side you will never have just one life, you will have as many lives and experiences as you want, in your mind and pouring onto the page. You are the lucky one after all.
So go on, get on with it!