No One Can Teach You How To Write

Heeeeeeeey! I’ve got some oil to sell you!

I imagine a lot of you got here—here being my little corner of the internet, complete with whiskey fountain and exploding mailboxes—the same way I got to my favourite writing blogs: you were trying to find out how to write.

I had a pretty good idea of the basics—put words one after another, try to make sense, try not to suck—but I’d run into some problem or another and I wanted to get another perspective. Sometimes the problems were mechanical, but more often they were procedural. What’s the best writing schedule? How do I keep the enthusiasm going on a long project? How do I know if this idea is worth devoting my time to? How do I become a writer?

When I Google’d those things, I came up with a few good blogs and a metric assload of self-promoting shills trying to sell me their Perfect Method for Creation. 

*Cue my skepticism face*

Lots of people will say they can tell you how to write. Some of them will even offer to sell you that secret for lots and lots of money. But you should look at them with the same scepticism you’d give a door-to-door cancer cure salesman. Yeah, they might have something worthwhile in that bag of Amazonian Snake Heads, but chances are you’re going to end up poorer and maybe poisoned.

This is not an indictment of writing advice. Advice is different from solutions. Advice says: “here is a way of doing a thing”. Solutions say: “Here is the only possible way of doing a thing and if you don’t see that you’re going to die alone and unloved and bookless, you hackneyed asshole.”

If you look carefully, you can spot the difference. 

No one can tell you how to write. Not even me. All I can do is tell you how I write. Some of that might work for you. Some of it almost certainly won’t. But the point is the take the bits that work and leave the rest to die by the side of the road. Take enough ideas from other people and add in some of your own and before you know it you’ll have a writing method of your very own.

Which will still fail you occasionally. No worries. That’s when you go back to the advice pool and see what you can dredge up.  

And remember: if it doesn’t work, throw it the fuck back.

6 thoughts on “No One Can Teach You How To Write

  1. I love that you wrote this today, when I was saying nearly the same thing on my blog. It drives me crazy that there is all this information out there, toted as “rules to writing,” these How-To’s that tell you want to do and what not to do in order to write “well.” Advice is great, hearing what has worked and not worked for others, but ultimately everyone needs to find their own method to do things. We need to find our own voices, our own styles, and tell the story as only we can tell it.

  2. Frank Zappa had the perfect response to shills: “Who you jiving with that cosmik debris?”

    Excellent post! It’s a merchandising sewer out there, and your distinction between The Perfect Method of Creation and advice from fellow writers is an important one. (“A metric assload of self-promoting shills”–magnificent!)

    There’s no Holy Grail for writing, and even if there was, it sure as hell wouldn’t be lurking around on the intertubes!

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