Last November someone messaged me to tell me something I wrote was part of the year 12 HSC English exam. Which I found hilarious. I almost failed HSC English. Got 51%. Now I’m part of the exam.
I’m also dyslexic. Like 10% of the population. Fun fact, 60% of Nobel Prize winners are dyslexic. We’re also 50% of the prison population. I could go either way.
Not what you would consider a typical writer’s pedigree.
The function of freedom is to free someone else ~ Toni Morrison.
I have authored seven books, published over 1000 columns, performed hundreds of stand up shows, and delivered dozens of keynote addresses blah, blah, blah. To be honest, whatever it is that I had to prove to whoever it was for whatever reason it’s done.
I am free.
Writing saves peoples lives. Writing your own words and reading other people’s words.
Words, stories and writing saved my life. I created my Gunnas Writer’s Masterclass to save people from dying with their music inside them. I thought I would run two masterclasses. I’ve run 68 in a little under two years.
This is what I have learned from my 1000 or so Gunnas so far.
1. There are three things all writers from professional to novices deal with constantly.
Procrastination, thinking your work is crap and worrying about what other people think.
These feelings are normal and to be expected. Just push them aside and move on. They are like traffic lights. They’ll change. You expect traffic lights when drive don’t you? You don’t think OMG! What is that stop sign doing there? I should never have gotten in the car! I new this was a bad idea. Feelings are not fact. Emotions change. The dog barks but the caravan moves on.
2. Writing is horrible.
Seriously. It’s not all sitting under a Weeping Willow with a fountain pen and a moleskin notebook. Writing is like pulling teeth. I once asked a very well known internationally acclaimed writer if he would prefer to read or write. “Write?” he said glaring at me in horror, “Like writing? I would prefer to dig a six-foot trench through turds with my tongue than write. Like writing? Are you serious?” Expect to hate it. It’s like exercise. We don’t write because we like it, we write because of how it makes us feel. Better.
Sometimes it’s just ‘hate writing’. You have to force yourself and think ‘I’m just going to have to hate write this’.
3. Motivation follows action.
Ever heard that saying ‘inspiration is for amateurs? It’s true. If writers only wrote when they just felt like writing they would never write. Just start. And then you will feel like it. Sometime when I don’t feel like running I say ‘Just put your runners on and run to the end of the street.’
4 None of us knows how the story is going to end.
That’s the reason writers write. To find out how the story ends.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
E L Doctorow.
I would add you can only ever see as far as the headlights. There has never been a time that I have written something and not been amazed by what what came out. I had no idea that was in there. You can’t get that fourth packet of Twisties out of the vending machine with out getting the first three out first.
5. Do less.
The biggest mistake writers make is to set goals that are too big.
“I’ll get home from work and write for five hours”. No you won’t. You have failed before you have even begun. So you give up. You know that very well know internationally acclaimed writer I was talking about? A dozen books, sold millions of copies, translated into 16 different languages. You know how much he writes? Four hours a day, four days a week. Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday 10am-2pm Wednesday off for paperwork and admin and he never works weekends.
Simple. Small. Just set yourself very simple and small goals. I’m just going to write a word, a sentence. WHOO HOO! You did it. The buzz you get from that will give you a sense of achievement and the amazing thing is that you will do more saying ‘I am going to write for ten minutes three times a week than if you promise to yourself you will write ten hours ever weekend.
6. 4 billion years 1% inspiration.
Human beings are the product of four billion years of evolutionary success. Writing has been the same until the last 15 years. Since the year dot it was 1% inspiration 99% perspiration. Now it’s 1% inspiration 99% not being distracted by the Internet. Being on Facebook, twitter, comment threads makes you feel as if you are writing. You’re not. You’re mucking around. It’s a bit like being at a cocktail party. Picking at food and drink all day. Never building up a hunger and sitting down and having a good satisfying feed. The good brain chemicals we get from achieving a goal, like writing undistracted for an hour or getting down 500 words are dissipated over the day of digital snacking. You never get hungry, you never feel saited. Be honest with yourself. Use Freedom app to block the internet and used your digital snacking you as reward.
7. Actions speak louder than coffee chats.
Don’t talk about it. The more people talk about writing the less they are writing. That goes for tweeting and facebooking about it. Love the book Working On My Novel. A book full of tweets with people talking about writing about their novel. Don’t tell. Show. The talking about it dissipates the head of steam needed to force you to sit down, get over yourself and write. When you talk about your writing you feel like you’ve been writing. You haven’t. You’ve been talking.
8. Where it wires it fires.
The more you do it, the more you do. The more a pathway in the brain is used the better and faster it gets. Writing is a muscle. The more you work it out, the better it gets. The more it fires (gets used) the more wires (the more brain synapses connect) When you set a goal the brains expectation system sends you good feeling hormones in expectation of reaching it. The more you do, the more you do.
9. You are not trying to kill anyone.
When I was 24 I thought I might want to do stand-up comedy so I went to a little stand-up tafe course. During the course I met comedian Rachel Burger. She said ‘You should do stand-up’. I said. ‘But I’m scared.’ She said ‘You are not trying to kill anyone you are just trying to make a few people laugh.’
I can’t tell you how helpful that little reframing has been. Remember, you’re not trying to kill anyone; you’re just trying to write some words, that turn into sentences that turn into stories. This platitude has helped too ‘It doesn’t matter how slow you go, you’re lapping everyone on the couch’.
10. Who cares what people think? They’re all wrong.
I went out with two other mates and we ordered a jug of Moscow mule, a cocktail made with vodka, ginger beer, and lime. I poured three glasses. First mate said ‘Wow, heaps of ginger beer in this’, the second said ‘No way! All I can taste is lime’. I looked at them and said ‘Are you serious? This just tastes like a jug of vodka.’
Same thing. Three different opinions.
You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches ~Dita Von Teese
You don’t write to be paid, praised, published or win prizes. We write to prove that you can. We write because it makes us feel good.
Need a portable writing coach? Buy a Writing Sucks poster here.
Catherine Deveny thought she would run two Gunnas Writing Masterclasses. She has run 100 in two years. Almost 2000 Gunnas. She does them all over Australia. She’d love to see you. There is also a Gunnas Self-Publishing with Julie Postance and a Gunnas Stand-Up Comedy with Rachel Berger.