Allow me to mount my high horse for a moment. I’ve found something to rant about.
Since I started Write for Your Life and began blogging coming up to two years ago, I’ve found myself delighted and exasperated in equal measure. Delighted at the amount of writers working together and sharing their experience online, exasperated at the frequent peddling of utter nonsense that only serves to misguide people.
The fact is, anyone can set up a blog and start offering advice to others. But if you do, you have to accept that it comes with a certain responsibility, especially if you manage to collect an audience. People read and act on your words. You have to make sure that they stand up.
The troublesome tweet
That said, the thing that got my goat and prompted this article wasn’t a blog post, it was a message posted on Twitter. I’m not going to say who by or anything like that, because I’ve seen similar messages almost daily since I started using the service. It’s a general problem.
Here’s what it said:
The best writing comes from the heart. Don’t think too hard before you write it.
Now there’s a chance that you might read that and think, what’s the problem? People often write about their feelings and writing is a good outlet for matters of the heart.
But read it again. Think about it as a piece of advice given to a writer just starting out, someone who has little experience and is looking for guidance that might affect significant decisions in their life.
Not only is it wishy-washy and void of any practical use, it’s simply plain wrong.
Use your head
Howard Jacobsen won the Man Booker Prize recently for his novel, The Finkler Question. Do we honestly believe that he ‘didn’t think too hard’ before he started writing?
Of course not. The best writing, any writing of substance, comes from an author’s ability to think carefully and critically about what they’re doing and what they want to achieve.
No successful author sits down at their laptop and starts typing without any thought as to what might result from doing so.
Even those writers who don’t have their work mapped out will have some sense of direction. They will think before they type and approach their work objectively.
Let’s lose the myths
The problem I have with all of this is that statements like the one above give new writers an entirely inaccurate impression of what it takes to be a great writer. More than that, it has the potential to stop them improving at all.
The best writing come not from the heart, but from research, practice and a willingness to learn from experience. The one thing writers absolutely need to do is think. And think hard.
Don’t get me wrong, I know where this talk of the heart comes from. It’s meant to encourage writers to let go and express themselves – their thoughts, their feelings.
But I don’t buy it. It’s just another example of the tired romanticisation of what it is to be ‘a writer’.
Because much like it’s a myth that our creativity comes from some proverbial muse, it’s also a myth that all writers need to do is find a keyboard and pour their heart out.
It never, ever works like that. There is always further processing. There is always thought. Saying otherwise is disingenuous, misleading and potentially harmful to new writers who are just starting out.
And with that, I dismount.
Share your thoughts
So what do you think? Am I right about needing to provide clear, practical advise or should writers be encouraged to get cracking no matter what? Let me know in the comments!