Writing advice is about as hard to come by as mud in the springtime.
These days, writing books, writing sites, blogs, tweets, seminars, and classes are a dime a dozen. You can find them online, at your community college, maybe even free at the library. Don’t get me wrong – I think all of these things (or at least most of them) are valuable. But today’s topic is supposed to be “the best writing advice I ever received.” And here it is, a quote from the incomparable Neil Gaiman:
“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more
from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you
It took me ten years to finish my first novel, and it’s somewhat of a miracle that it happened at all. You see, I didn’t understand yet the need to finish and move on. I hadn’t figured out that every book we write – every story, every poem, every essay – teaches us something. We learn and grow by completing the process, looking at what we’ve done, and then carrying everything that we’ve learned over to the next project.
You can’t do this if you’re endlessly reworking the same piece of writing for ever and ever. You also can’t learn it if you abandon things in the middle and don’t finish them.
I learned to finish things by participating in the insanity of Nanowrimo. 5o,000 words in a month for a writer who took ten years to write a book is a bit of a stretch. But it was possibly the best thing I ever did for my writing. Nanowrimo was a crash course in characters, story arcs, plot arcs. More importantly, it taught me how to just sit down and write whether I felt like it or not. To get the words onto the page and worry about making things pretty later. I’ve learned that you can fix characters, plots, and bad writing, but you can’t fix an empty page.
Not that I don’t still struggle with this. Procrastination is one of my greatest skills, particularly when I hit a tough patch in the writing process. There are times when I want to abandon a project and walk away, but I have developed a mantra for myself:
Just finish this draft. And then we’ll see.
Speaking of which, I’m in the middle of a revision and I need to go finish that. So I’ll leave you with some more excellent advice from Neil Gaiman, and get back to my writing chair.