II’m often asked whether I have one piece of advice for writers. I don’t…because I have 10! These 10 tips have helped me write more than a dozen books (award-winning fiction and nonfiction), not to mention three optioned screenplays and countless articles and essays. They can help you too, whether you’re a seasoned writer or working on your first project and whatever your form, medium or genre.
1. You Don't Have to Know What Your Book Is About Before Starting.
I have rarely known what my books were going to be about before I began writing them. With three of them, I didn't even know I was writing a book when I started!
With The MoonQuest, for example, a writing exercise in a class I was teaching sparked a story I knew nothing about. When the class was over, I just kept writing...and a novel eventually emerged. The Voice of the Muse and Dialogues with the Divine each grew from journaled jottings that were never (consciously) intended for an audience.
It's those experiences that prompted me to write a book I did know I was writing and what it was about: Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About, a step-by-step guide to getting your book written, whether or not you think you know what you're doing.
2. You Don't Need to Plot, Plan, Outline or Otherwise Prepare.
Of course, you can plot, plan, outline or otherwise prepare. There's no right or wrong way to write a book...or any other creative project. The only right-write way is the way that works for you on this book. (It might be different next time!) Just so you know, though, I have never outlined. Nothing. Ever. Not even my screenplays, which orthodox screenwriting lore would have you believe is compulsory. (That's why I wrote Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally – to free you from creativity-stifling orthodoxy.)
So how do you begin? With one word, any word. And then another and another and another. And another. No stopping. No editing. No censoring. No going back. Just racing forward through and past the fear, anxiety and inevitable nonsense and into the story that will reveal itself to you through the writing of it, if you get out of its way and let it. That's a Cliff's Notes version of my "Writing on the Muse Stream" method. Read more about it in any of my books for writers.
(By the way, I use the word "story" to refer to all your writing, not just your fiction and not just your book-writing.)
3. Forget the Rules. All of Them.
All my books for writers include a set of tongue-in-cheek "rules." And although they vary depending on each book's theme, they all share the same first and final rule: There are no rules.
Write the book (or short story or poem or screenplay or stage play or essay) that demands to be written as it demands to be written, not according to anyone else's rules or strictures, including NaNoWriMo's, if you're happening to read this in November.
- You haven't started yet? Start today. Now. Or start tomorrow or the day after or next week. Just start!
- Your book is a memoir or other non-fiction work? Or it's not a book at all but a screenplay? If it's November and you had planned to participate in NaNoWriMo, celebrate the fact that you're writing something instead of beating yourself up for not having written a novel. The fact that you’re writing, that you’re moving forward with a project you’re passionate about, is more important than its form, medium or genre.
- Your draft is shorter than you think it ought to be (or that NaNoWriMo says it must be)? Celebrate that you've finished your draft instead of mourning the fact that you didn't meet an arbitrary word count.
- You don't finish by an arbitrary deadline? So what! However many words you have written are more words than you would have written had you not launched the process. When the time comes, celebrate that.
4. Don't Judge.
Just as you are not judging your process, don't judge your output. First drafts (and sometimes second and third drafts!) are meant to be chaotic. So let your early drafts be as repetitive, inconsistent, illogical and messy as they need to be. Just get your story onto the page, however it comes out. Use later drafts to polish, hone and refine your rough stone into the jewel it was meant to be.
Should you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo, you will be racing against the calendar to meet a November 30 deadline and will have no time to fix 'n fuss as you go. That's a good thing. The most uncreative thing you can do is edit while you write that first draft...of anything.
5. Trust Your Book (and Its Characters).
Your book and its characters (if you're writing fiction or a screenplay) are smarter than you are. Get out of their way (and your own) and let them tell their story and/or express their vision through you. Abandon control!
6. It's Okay to Be Out-of-Order
Like movies, which are rarely filmed in sequence, your first (or second or third) draft may not write itself in final book order. That's okay. In this as in all aspects of your writing enterprise, let the bits and pieces of your book or other writing project come as they come...and write them that way, knowing that your project's innate wisdom will determine the appropriate order when the time is right.
7. Take Risks.
Creative expression is about risk-taking. It's about pushing boundaries – your own as well as those of others. It’s about boarding Star Trek’s starship Enterprise, taking off for parts unknown and journeying to the edges of the creative universe. Commit to taking more risks. Commit to the creative artist you are.
8. Do the Best You Can, and Let It Be Good Enough.
Your writing may be excellent, accomplished, creative and insightful. It may be brilliant, compelling and universally lauded. But perfect? Not possible.
It’s not possible because when we translate an idea or concept into language, we’re taking something that is infinite (energy) and dynamic (neural impulses) and converting it into something that is finite (language) and static (squiggles on a page). The resulting “translation” can never be more than an approximation. Do the best you can, and let it be good enough...because your book will never be perfect. Not. Ever.
(Need help conquering perfectionism? Watch for my upcoming book – The Way of the Imperfect Fool: How to Bust the Addiction to Perfection That's Stifling Your Success...in 12½ Super-Simple Steps. It's a follow-up to The Way of the Fool: How to Stop Worrying About Life and Start Living it...in 12 ½ Super-Simple Steps.)
It seems obvious, but it's not. It can be easy to put writing aside in favor of research. It’s even easier to put writing aside while you try to figure what your book or essay or screenplay or story is about.
Don’t wait to figure out what it's about. Don’t worry about its direction, theme, structure or focus. Don’t worry about chapter breaks (my first MoonQuest draft had none). Don’t worry about what people will think of it, or of you. Don’t worry about anything. Set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and, without judging or second-guessing what emerges, let your book do its wizardly work – on you as much as on the page.
In other words: Write...the book (or other project) you didn’t know you had in you...the book you could never have imagined writing...the book you believed you could not write...the book that is yours alone to write.
10. There Are No Rules.
As I noted in Tip #3, "no rules" is the one rule that never changes. No matter what you’re writing, the only certainty is that flow is fluid, your creation is unique and your book, story, screenplay, essay or stage play makes its own rules. Truly, there is no universal right way or wrong way. There is only your way, the way of your story.
Let Me Help You Put These Tips Into Practice!
If you're within driving distance of Portland, Oregon, mark Saturday, Sept. 29 on your calendar! That's the day I'll be offering my Write with Ease! one-day workshop – my first in-person workshop in years!
Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting out, whatever your genre or form, Write with Ease! will help you write more effortlessly, naturally and flowingly than you could ever have imagined possible!
Please join me in Portland on Sept. 29 for an unparalleled journey into your own creativity, and discover how easy it can be to express yourself spontaneously and authentically.
You’ll never feel the same about writing again!
Registration is limited to 8 participants, so reserve your spot today at https://www.markdavidgerson.com/events/92918workshop.
Questions? Drop me a line and I'll do my best to get right back to you.
Can't Make the Workshop?
- Let me help you free your stories onto the page more easily than you could ever have imagined, with a personalized coaching program tailored to your specific needs. Whatever your creative project and level of experience, I can help you get your writing project done and out into the world.
- With five books on writing that cover a variety of topics and genres, and a sixth on book-marketing, along with recordings guaranteed to fuel your creative process, I have all the resources you need to move forward on your own!