Writing: It’s not big or clever

(I found this in my drafts folder from 2013 – it’s surprisingly forthright for someone who has no actual relevant qualifications, but I still stand by most of it, so here you go…)

I’m not a particularly good writer, but for the last seven years I’ve paid every one of my bills with money earned by writing things down or by editing words written down by other people. So here are the only pieces of advice I have about writing things down for money:

Don’t turn it into a weird stationery fetish

No, you don’t need that particular pen. Or a Moleskine notebook. You don’t need to sit in a café for hours or have a special hipster desk from a vintage market. Just sit down at your computer, get it written and email it to your editor. Done. Now have a cake. Do you like it when I’m strict? Do you? Yeah.

Don’t be a snob

I’ve written lots of interesting features that required in-depth research and thrilling interviews. I’ve also written articles on craft glue and glitter management. It really doesn’t matter if I’m stimulated by the subject; my job is to make the reader interested. If you get the chance, take commissions that are outside your comfort zone or that just bore the pants off you. They’ll make you a smarter writer, and you’ll be able to buy another one of those goddamn fancy notebooks you love so much. Win-win!

Don’t let them see you writing

Make it look easy, even if it’s not! Use words that everyone knows, or can at least understand in context! For God’s sake don’t make your reader picture you sitting at your desk tapping out every overwrought sentence; it breaks the spell. 

Anyone with half a brain can sit for hours and turn out a flowery, introspective description of a crisp autumn morning – that’s easy. But if you can write something bright and light and readable about, say, optical drives or the advantages of different cast-on techniques? That, my friend, is a marketable skill.

Find your own voice

I write like a complete moron, but that is, apparently, my thing. When I wrote a tech column, it always went down better when I did minimal research and wrote off the top of my head. I can’t honestly recommend this technique, but you might find you have a knack for turning out copy on something odd or unexpected.

I once saw a documentary about David Shrigley, who creates hilarious naive stick drawings and odd sculptures – he’s a celebrated artist despite doing poorly at art school. In the doc, he said, ‘I suddenly realised that my shit drawings were better than my good drawings.’ I always think of that when I’m writing now. Attempting ‘good’ writing always looks try-hard. Go with your shit, half-arsed writing and it’ll often surprise you. You’ve got a great voice in your head already – let’s hear it, lady! Or gentleman!

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