What advice would you give to writers?

That’s what somebody asked me on Sunday, and I’ve been thinking about it since then.

1. Don’t listen to advice – that’s the first thing I’d say. If I’d been given any advice before I launched into what people now call my writing ‘career’ (which makes me laugh: career, moi?) then it would have been ‘stick to the day job’ and ‘don’t expect to make a living from writing fiction’ and ‘writers are prone to mental illness you know, surely you don’t want to do something so risky/ill paid/rejection filled?’ Fortunately nobody knew what I was doing so nobody offered their wisdom. Five years on, making a living and no more prone to mental illness than I was before, I know I was very lucky to start writing without the benefit of other peoples’ opinions.

2. Write every day – that’s the only way I know to be a writer. Don’t worry about good writing or bad writing or when you’re going to finish or what you’re going to do with ‘it’ when you do. Just write, every day.

3. The third piece of advice is one that nobody ever follows. It’s the thing I tell everybody who asks me what really makes the difference between good writing and bad, and yet when I say it, I can see people refusing to accept what I say. It’s very simple. Put every finished piece of work in a drawer for ninety days before revising. That’s the one thing that really works for me. It means that if you follow my second piece of advice (a) you write ninety days more ‘stuff’ before you go back to revise the drawer piece, and that means you’re ninety days better a writer and (b) it means your words strike you freshly, as though somebody else had written them and (c) it means you are no longer in love with what you wrote and you can revise it with the sinewy power of disinterest, rather than the floppy fingertips of somebody who’s still enthralled with the power of their creation. Yes it requires immense willpower, although not so much if you do 2., and yes it means that you have to be committed to writing seriously and keeping track of what you’re working on . But if you do it, you discover something amazing – you can edit your own work as if it wasn’t yours, and that’s the thing that really makes a writer: not the writing, but the editing.

The photo is bagel dough, just to prove I'm still baking, as well as writing!

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