writetips

The Importance of Being Sweary

Writing is a lonesome pursuit. Whether you’re in a cabin or in an office, in a cafe or up a fucking tree; you’re writing alone. It’s a solitary endeavour.

But as isolated as you may be, you aren’t alone alone. Figurativley and shit.

Of course there are people lining up to make you feel that way. Take the assholes for example, who can’t help but share insightful fucking gems like ‘there’s no money in writing’, and ‘why don’t you just write something commercial’.

Insight like that can have you diving into a bottomless Pinot Noir, filled will hatred and cry-wanking; where shame-fucking and intravenous drugs seem like reasonable antidotes to your despair. I know. I’ve heard it all.

And it’s not just the assholes.

There are writers too who would rather see you fail than accept the fact they may not succeed; sock puppetry and thinly-veiled attacks masquerading as serious critique are just a few of the obstacles facing published or would-be authors.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Thank fuck for the internet. 

I started this Tumblr at the beginning of the year. This is my 200th post. Among the ubiquitous quotes, the Hemingway-appreciation and pictures of my Catcher In The Rye collection, the posts that have most resonated with readers have been the sweary rants.

A-fucking-men. See, for me, the sweary rant is catharsis. It allows me to explore and articulate my frustrations, to vent whatever seething rage is making me want to punch babies.

But it’s not just catharsis. Sweary rants are a cold beer in the hand of the maligned and misunderstood, a topless cuddle for the solitary scribe; a rub and tickle for the most bespectacled and bedraggled of literary doormats.

The sweary rant is a call to arms. It lets the assholes know we’re not going to lie down and take it any longer than it’s pleasurable to do so.

‘That’s right fuckers,’ the Sweary Rants says, 'you don’t own us.' 

If there’s one thing the world needs more of, it’s Pinot Noir. If there are two things, then the second is a toss up between mass murder and sweary rants. That latter is where you come in.

Writers; your profession needs you. We need you articulate, thoroughly pissed off and mostly drunk. Pants are optional.

Yes, writing is a lonesome pursuit. But the sweary rant is drunken group karaoke at 2am; we may not be singing in tune, but we’re singing together and holy fuck are we loud when we do.

Turn around bright eyes… and go write a filth-laden, fuck-peppered sweary rant. There are writers out there who will be glad you did. Thank you in advance.

Why I write (and why I'll never stop)

Recently someone asked me how I find the motivation to keep writing. The answer is simple; I write because I must.

Writing is a compulsion. An addiction. A thirst. Without doubt it is the only thing stopping me going crazy.

The compulsion to write is like a knot in my chest. 

I’m at the store, at the movies, in the shower - and it hits me. Usually sparked by an idea; a premise, a line of dialogue, an opening sentence.

Once the knot arrives it gets tighter and tighter until I sit down and let the words out. 

Without that outlet, it’s impossible to function. Without that outlet I’m liable to become even more irritable, cranky and unproductive. Without it, I can’t process thoughts and emotions. I can’t stop the rage.

Without writing I would destroy myself.

In the words of Mark Ruffalo’s Dr Bruce Banner; “You wanna know the secret?" 

I’m always writing.

More than 90% of my writing process happens internally. I never stop. When the knot arrives I start writing externally.

My most recent project was a short novel. I wrote it down in 19 days, all 50,000 words of it. I spat it out. I flooded the page with words.

I may have written the first draft proper in those three weeks, but I had been writing that manuscript for over 2 years. I just hadn’t been writing it down.

Sure I kept the odd note, for clarity. I filled a large whiteboard in my study with single word pointers. But for the most part I had been ruminating, digesting, editing, correcting and developing the story in my head before I even contemplated putting it on paper.

Here’s another secret; there is no such thing as a bad idea. There is only bad execution of that idea. Take my first manuscript for example; great concept, lousy story. 

The battle is finding the right frame for the story. The right tone. The right characters. The battle is sticking with it. Adapting, changing, evolving. Some ideas arrive with the perfect story attached. Some ideas take a lot more work. 

Some ideas will just never find the right execution.

No writer quits an idea. You never stop. You may not be writing it down, but you’re always writing it. Letting it gestate, waiting for the knot to arrive.

Most of the time you can tell a story isn’t working because the tap isn’t flowing properly. Sometimes you can’t tell a story isn’t working until you read it back.

Sometimes it takes other people reading it for you to realise you got it wrong.

But the doubts and the insecurities and the lack of belief and all those other symptoms of the creative mind - I usually fight those battles off the page. 

If I don’t believe in an idea I don’t write it. If I lose faith in an idea it’s just because it hasn’t been developed enough yet. Back in the head it goes. 

When it’s truly ready to be written, the compulsion will arrive and the story will write itself.

There is a wonderful Indian proverb that any of you who have seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will recoginise warmly; ‘Everything will be alright in the end, if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.’

In my writing experience there is a similar notion;

"Every idea will make a great story when it’s ready. If it’s not a great story, then the idea is not ready.”

I started writing because I needed to. I’ll continue writing as long as I have that need. I can’t live without breathing, and I can’t live without writing. They are the same. As long as I’m still breathing, living, experiencing, loving, hating, fearing; I’ll be writing.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said; 'You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.’

I write because I must. I write because I have something to say.

Writing Wrongs & Righting Writes

By now it’s been well established, mostly by me, that writing fucking sucks. It’s a horrible, wonderful, horrible way to spend your time.

But editing, holy fucking shit. Editing is the worst.

Trying to decide what words to cut out is harder than trying to hold down a job.

The other day on Twitter a friend asked me how to cut their word count, "the copy is too good to let go,“ they said.

Now I hadn’t read this copy, so I can’t judge, but in my experience this is the first mistake most writers make when editing; believing your words are any good.

"You’re rarely as witty as you think you are,” I @replied. “And at least half as brilliant.”

I was half joking when I said it, but also at least 60% serious. It may sound harsh but objectivity is the key.

That’s why I recommend leaving your manuscript in a drawer for so long you forget you wrote it. Or giving it to a lawyer and having it delivered to you at midnight, 12 years from now, by the side of the road in a small town you’ve never been to before.

Farfetched maybe, but the point is that you should be able to look at it with fresh eyes and say to yourself, without any doubt, “what a piece of fucking shit.”

Then you start cutting words.

“Shoot them all,” I told me friend, “play a game of ‘how many words can I take away and still be saying the same thing?’”

Why use five words when you can use one. Why have five punchlines when brevity is the essence of wit.

That is the point of editing; focus.

Like burning ants, you need to get that magnifying glass in just the right place to set those fuckers alight.

Say less. Say as little as possible. As long as your point survives, you win.

As for being funny. Don’t. You’re not. Anyone who tries to be funny is setting themselves up for failure (this blog, for example).

Funny is overrated. The real trick is to be honest.

Hemingway said 'all you need to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.’

Read your manuscript again and highlight the truth in each passage. Cut out everything else until all you’ve got is honesty. And not just because Hemingway said so.

Truth is funnier than any joke you can tell. Injecting a healthy dose of honesty will make your manuscript more hilarious, more heart-breaking, and more poignant than by trying to force it in.

And if you’ve simply got to keep a darling in there, if you need to save your favourites, then - like a literary Sophie’s Choice - save one.

Now all you’ve got to do is make sure that your plot structure works, all your character arcs are fully developed, all the scenes take place where they need to, the dialogue doesn’t all sound the same and there are no continuity errors.

Simples.

How do you approach editing? Leave me a comment!

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