Why knowing you have to write more isn’t enough

This post was originally posted on Medium by the Writing Co-operative. Check them out here.

One of the first things that I did when I started my blog was to ask some other writers for the best writing advice that they had ever received. I wanted to do some quick market research so that when I was planning blog posts for the future I was able to build on existing knowledge, rather than just repeat the same old advice again and again.

What better way of market research is there, I reasoned, than to see what real writers have in the back of their minds whenever they sit down at the computer (or typewriter or notebook) to create their stories? I went on a couple of established Facebook groups (I started by asking two groups specifically: Bang2Write and The Listener’s of the Dead Robot’s Society) and asked the question — what’s the best writing advice you have ever received? I was hoping for one or two replies that I could then put together into a blog post, or use as a jumping off point for a much wider discussion.

However, the response was much bigger than that! I was amazed at how the writers within each community stepped up to help a new blogger. Reading the wise words offered definitely inspired me a lot more than I was expecting. So great was the response that I split the advice up into two separate blog posts (here and here, if you’re interested).

I also found myself drawn back to the creative project I was working on, determined to keep that going.

I soon realized that one simple question had probably given me the most popular Facebook posts of my life (if you ignore my engagement and marriage, although I give most of the credit for those to the popularity of my wonderful wife). Passing on advice was clearly something that writers liked to do! Having a single place for so much advice hopefully helped the people contributing as well, as they got a chance to see the thoughts of others.

Some of the advice was not the writer’s own. Understandably, some were taken from the greats: quotes from the likes of Ernest Hemmingway and Neil Gaiman. Some people recalled the wise words of old tutors or English teachers. But the ones I loved the most were clearly the writer’s own thoughts. Someone had read my post and thought about how they could help the community.

I read the quotes and took notes, crossing out blog ideas and coming up with new ones. As I looked through the comments, though, one piece of advice, however, came up time and time again. It seemed to resonate with other users, each one getting more likes.

Write!

Write now!

Keep writing!

Everyone seemed to be united in the idea that the most important thing when writing is to… well, write. So I started looking at the different ways that writers get those precious words down on a page. Unfortunately it wasn’t a simple answer. Even the writers I spoke to who had dozens of books to their name told me that they would love to write more.

The advice to ‘write more’ resonates with so many of us because we all feel a little guilty and would all love to write more. From the independent writer/publisher who knocks through 10 books a year to the first time author struggling to finish chapter one, all of us wish that, somehow, we could squeeze more words from the day.

So if you take nothing else from this post, remember that you are not alone.

It seems logical. You can’t write a bestseller, a page turner or even a script without getting those words down. You have to spend the time turning that idea in your head into a real book. So everywhere you go, the advice you get is: write. No matter what you do in a day, you should be writing. You should be thinking about writing, and you should be feeling guilty about not writing.

Writing more can sometimes be really easy, especially when you’re in the moment. When that happens, writing is a joy. You feel at one with the story (or book) and the words flow from you freely. When you are in that mood, the advice above is kind of obvious. Of course the best thing you can do is write. Why would you need to do anything else?

This led me to realise that simply telling people to write more wasn’t enough. Questions started coming back to me — how do I write more? What magic tricks do people employ to increase their word counts? The problem became obvious. The best writing advice in the world wasn’t really the best advice in the world. It was a starting point for a much wider discussion.

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