The act of writing is often seen as archaic and solitary. This is not untrue, but is some-what distorted and over-simplified. Being a writer, and not being one is not as simple as being or not being solitary. We are all writers as we spend our day processing information and thinking over things. The only real difference between a writer and someone who is not is that one person sets down their thoughts to paper and shares it. The other does not.

While I can (and most people will even when not asked) give you complicated and detailed advice: the simple fact of writing is that it is habitual. The more you write, the better you will write, and the longer you can write for and the more you can write about. Aristotle sums this up nicely when he stated how to achieve excellence: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

My biggest hardship with writing has always been that I’m unable to set a time for my writing; a routine. I will sit down and splurge all of my thoughts out into a poem in one go. And then come back to it later in order to edit it. But when I come to study my own process of writing, I realise that I spend lots of time thinking and writing within my head before the actual act of setting it down on paper. So the preparation for my writing is deceptively complicated and detailed, while appearing to be simple. Even if I sit down to do work, even when I don’t use that time to write: I will use it to think about what I want to write and how I will do so. Especially when it comes to stories. This is not so much true with my poetry as the way I write it onto the page is the form itself. Then I rearrange and refine it, and that is just how I write poetry.

When I am not sat down to do work I am thinking and writing in my head: in this sense I am always writing. And I think this is how most people work. The only problem with that is leaving it in your head, and not putting it down on paper can leave you with stale ideas, or can allow you to forget them before you have the chance to develop such ideas. Making a habit of putting this work down on paper, or onto a computer word file seems to be the key difference between a writer and a non-writer. If you wish to become a writer: simply write. If you wish to write well: make a habit of expressing all ideas which you think could flourish and become fruitful. It doesn’t matter how many unpublished manuscripts you have in your draw. It doesn’t matter how many poems never get touched, or read again. Because for all the work which goes no where, you will express something worth hearing and reading when you make a habit of expressing yourself often.

Practical advice:
Making time for yourself is essential. The solitary archetype of writing is mostly true. You will need your own space, your own ‘special place’. This may even be with other people. What is important is that you’re able to write in that environment. Some people can write no matter where they are, other people need a desk. While in general writers need their own room/office/etc. with the door closed. It is all about personal preference. But no matter what kind of writer you are, you will need time to reflect, as well as space away from distractions. Also if you suffer from being easily distracted then all the more reason to lock yourself away after telling your household to leave you alone for set periods of time, or at set times in general. The easiest distraction to fall into is social invitations. If you’re serious about your writing you will need to sacrifice at least an hour a day for your own thoughts. Although talking to people can be useful for mining information and ideas; you will still need the time alone to make those ideas and expressions your own. And to express them in a manner that is your style, and give your own edge to those influences.

A simple but easy piece of advice for a beginner is to sit yourself down wherever you feel comfortable writing and to set yourself a easy limit. Let’s say a single poem stanza or 50-100 words of a story with each sitting. You can increase and decrease this limit as you see fit. When you’re writing an entire poem in one sitting, or 1000 words you know you can move on. Depending on your situation and how busy you are, you will want to regulate this limit to suit yourself. But it is really just the habit of writing every day, or a few times a day in short bursts that you want to form and keep going. Once writing is a habit you will find yourself at your desk writing out poems without any prompt, and no need to push yourself to do so. You will find yourself tortured at night because you feel the urge to get up and write a stanza down, or sat on a three hour train journey dying to write a thought down. Writing is demanding, but as the habit grows the reward you get back from it grows too. You will express your emotions and intelligence in a way that it will become your cathartic work; your heart-work. Although writing can give you as much stress as it does a reward, looking back on your writing and being able to see a gradual improvement of your own cultivated abilities can empower you, and you will find yourself becoming obsessed with writing. When you write because you feel compelled to write, rather than just want to: that is when you have obtained the habit which characterises an author. I write because I have to, regardless of my want. And I think that sums up many of the most famous and talented of writers. Write because it is what you are. Or as Franz Kafka once said “All I am is literature.” I am as much my writing, as my writing is me. They are both me. However, my writing is my selected-self. While myself outside of my writing is everything that is and isn’t my choice. In this sense my writing self is a product: a product of myself, produced and selected by none other but myself.

Thus my writing self is my self’s archetype. A role model; the best of my self.

One thought on “On writing.

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