I see a lot of How To Be A Writer posts and they always cheer me up.
The internet is full of other people who seem just as anxious as I am to nail down the process into a series of simple instructions. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t it be super if you could buy “On Writing” by Stephen King, follow it page by page and end up with a novel, very much as one might follow a recipe to make apple crumble [peach cobbler if you come from a place where apple crumble does not exist].
Sadly it doesn’t work like that. There are too many variables. Every single writer has something about themselves that nobody else can quite manage to emulate. Every single writer NEEDS to work in their own particular, unique and sometimes peculiar way.
- Yesterday on the Women and Words site I saw a brilliant illustration of this. Jack Kerouac provided 30 ‘How To’ tips for people who wanted to know how to be a writer. Here they are in no particular order of importance:
- Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
- Submissive to everything, open, listening
- Try never get drunk outside yr own house
- Be in love with yr life
- Something that you feel will find its own form
- Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
- Blow as deep as you want to blow
- Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
- The unspeakable visions of the individual
- No time for poetry but exactly what is
- Visionary tics shivering in the chest
- In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
- Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
- Like Proust be an old teahead of time
- Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
- The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
- Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
- Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
- Accept loss forever
- Believe in the holy contour of life
- Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
- Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
- Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
- No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
- Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
- Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
- In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
- Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
- You’re a Genius all the time
- Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
So now you know! I bet that’s a sure fire recipe for writing something that looks a bit similar to Jack Kerouac.
Sure you can follow Elmore Leonard’s advice and that will be fine if you want to write stuff set in the same kind of places and periods as Elmore Leonard enjoys writing about. But the tight terse laconic style that is fine for hard bitten PIs investigating contemporary crime capers is going to look a bit odd if you apply it to Regency romances.
I’d be inclined to read the advice – some of Elmore’s ten are spot on – but how the hell do you guess which bits readers skip? I know that I often skip the bits that other readers say are the best parts. What do you think? Sing in your own voice or try and lip synch to one of the great operatic tenors who write ‘how to’ books?