4 Pieces of Writing Advice to My 21-Year-Old Self
Lessons I’ve learned in 6 years of writing
It’s the start of the weekend and I’m in an extremely good mood. The last week was all about relaxing for me and finding my rhythm. I took an extended break from work, went on a lot of self-care sessions, and spent a lot of time with my 15-week old Labrador puppy, Lucy.
(She’s adorable, isn’t she? If you’d like to see more of Lucy’s videos, head over to my YouTube channel where I post one new video every day.)
New course announcement
Well, now let’s talk about what’s going on at the professional end. I recently announced a FREE course on how you can get your writing journey started and land high-paying clients.
The course is still in the beta stage and will officially launch on October 14 (my birthday, yay!). Until then, if you’d like to join the wait-list and answer some questions to help me refine it even more, please fill the form below.
The next section of this newsletter is, as promised in the title, about the four things about being a writer that I would tell my 21-year-old self. Maybe they will save you months — probably years — of stumbling around in the dark.
Read on, and do let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment or a reply to this email.
1. You do not suck
No matter what that voice inside your head keeps on telling you, your writing is not bad.
Yes, your story might have been told before, but just because your idea is not original, does not mean your story cannot be authentic. If you’re honest in your portrayal and narration, the audience will relate to it and fall in love with your writing.
Yes, your story might not be as spell-binding as the ones written by people who have achieved significantly higher milestones than you, but that doesn’t mean your story has no value.
Your upbringing, your mindset, your circumstances, and your way of dealing with them have carved your experiences into unique lessons that no one else in the world can replicate.
The situations you’ve faced might not be unique. But, the way you’ve dealt with them is. And that’s what makes your story worth sharing.
As Elizabeth Gilbert quoted in her brilliant book, Big Magic,
“The older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.”
2. The first draft is for your eyes only
After you get your first few readers and your fair share of praises, there might come a time when you start thinking of yourself as infallible, that no matter what you write, it will strike gold.
While it might be true that you have amazing insights, you are but human, and it’s natural to make mistakes and typographical or grammatical errors in your first draft.
Never share it with anyone else.
Editing is the polishing that turns a piece of charcoal into a diamond. Just like every bit of coal needs to undergo polishing to become a diamond, every first draft needs several rounds of editing to become a masterpiece.
Your first draft is supposed to be the rawest, most basic form of the story you want to tell. The subsequent rounds of editing will make it into the end-product the world deserves.
I think Angeline Trevena conveyed this the best when she quoted-
“Your first draft is a petulant teenager, sure it knows best, adamant that its Mother is wrong. Your third draft has emerged from puberty, realising that its Mother was right about everything.”
3. Writing daily is not as important as reading daily
Yes, making writing a part of your daily routine helps you become a better writer. But, if you stop reading, you would never be able to expand your horizons and explore bigger possibilities.
When you read daily, you open yourself up to the prospect of learning from writers with more experience than you.
Reading is like fodder to a writer’s brain. The more you read, the more nuances and subtleties of the language you learn, and the better you can appreciate storytelling and replicate the magic in your own work.
Sadly, in their haste to produce more work in a short time, several writers (including my 21-year-old-self) ignore reading and only focus on creating content.
As the Sahitya Akademi Award winner Ruskin Bond says,
“There’s only one way to become a writer, that’s to be a reader. If you look at the lives of all writers who are successful, you’d find that when they were boys or girls, they were readers and bookworms. It’s from a love of reading that you come to a love of writing.”
4. Don’t edit while you write
If I had a count of the number of times I abandoned an article or a story because I felt it is not good enough, I would probably have an excess of 100,000 wasted words — stories that could have been life-changing, but ended up as unpublished drafts in my computer’s Recycle Bin because I couldn’t stop editing while writing.
Don’t make the same mistake as I did.
While you write, tell the editor in your head to shut up. Pour out your heart on the paper and write it in whichever form or sequence the story comes to you.
The time for editing will come, but that is not while you are writing.
Once your first draft is done, keep it aside for a night (or longer — even two months — if you are working on a longer piece like a novel). Come back to it the next morning, and read through it once.
Don’t edit during the first read — just make a note of all the elements you would like to change.
After you prepared your list, start editing. It might take several rounds, even a few hours of re-writing and re-structuring. But, if you have poured your heart into it, in the end, it will be worth all the time and effort.
As Bernard Malamud famously quoted-
“I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times — once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say. Somewhere I put it this way: first drafts are for learning what one’s fiction wants him to say. Revision works with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to reform it. Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.”
Some food for thought
Writers, especially the ones who are just starting out, often limit the possibilities available to them by letting themselves be consumed by self-doubt.
As creatives, this feeling will perhaps never go away. The best you can do is not succumb to it, and keep writing.
For the world to love your work and for you to reach the heights you know you are meant to, you have to first publish. Once you get past this hurdle and start to write and keep honing your skills, no force in the world can stop you from becoming the best writer you can possibly be.
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That’s all from my end today. I’ll see you again soon. Till then, stay strong. Keep smiling and be awesome.