I see writing advice all over the web now, from so many different sources. People flock to writing forums, desperate to uncover the secrets. Those who aren’t there in the vain hope of learning some secret code of writing, are there dolling it out, hoping you’ll believe they have the authority and wisdom to tell you what is and isn’t right.
I’m not sure what’s worse – people who believe/hope/pray there’s a secret handshake, or those who want you to believe they know what it is.
Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one.
The tragedy of it all is that the answer is staring you in the face, and has been all along. Ever since the day you thought you wanted to write a story, the answer has been there. The One Truth, the Uber Secret Handshake of it all, and it couldn’t be more simple. I’ll even reveal it here for you at the end of my diatribe, free of charge.
I should warn you, though, a lot of you aren’t going to like the answer. You’ve probably even been told what it was before, but it didn’t suit what you wanted it to be, so you moved on to find someone ELSE who could offer up the keys to the kingdom. I can’t help you. In point of fact I (as in me) cannot help you at all. I can lead you to it, I can point out the way and even put it in your hand (or I could, if you were standing beside me or something) but I can’t help you with it.
Recently, relative to a scale of the past several years, I made a breakthrough – a realization about my writing, writing in general, and the big wonder of it all. I grew ten feet tall that day, and the world opened up. Suddenly things are clear, and crisp, and solid, and I understand the universe around me and my place as a writer in it.
I can’t teach you that, or even explain it without sounding like an ass, so I’m not going to bother. When you get there, you’ll know.
But about that Secret Handshake – – the reason it’s so elusive, so hard for people to accept, is because it requires something of you. It’s not as simple as “never use prologues” or “avoid back story”, and yet it’s so much more simple than that. It’s not as complex as “avoid superlative adjectives” or “never open with the weather”. You won’t figure this out by “always write first thing in the morning” or “do ten pages a day without fail” and it’s not gonna come to you while you’re writing your “thousand pages of crap”.
You’re not going to find the answer at a writing convention, or retreat, either. All you’ll get there are lectures, bad hotel chicken dinners, and long, pensive hours staring at a blinking cursor (or your belly button).
But there is good news. The answer can be found on the bus, the train, at your desk, in the living room, the back yard, the beach, even the toilet. Because, my friends, the answer you’re looking for – the One True Secret Handshake of it all – the secret to being a good/better/great writer . . .
Read, then read some more. Find authors you admire, and study them by reading. Then look for more and read those. Read beyond one genre, read everything you can get your hands on, good, bad or indifferent and then read more.
Read crap so you’ll know what to avoid doing. Read great books so you’ll have something to aspire to. Read books that frighten you, read authors that inspire you, read novels that confound or confuse you and find out why that is. Read what you want to write, read what everyone else is reading, read stuff you’ve never heard of before.
Read, then read some more.
Like it or not, folks, that’s the answer. That’s the Big Secret. That, is the Uber Secret Special Writerly Handshake. That’s the best advice you’ll ever get from any writer, and the only advice that makes any sense at all.