Next weekend, I’m doing a workshop for young writers. All the teachers have been asked to send in a letter “to themselves as a young writer.” Here’s mine.
What I Really, Really Wish I’d Been Told as a Young Writer…
by William M. Akers
It’s never easy. Even when it seems easy… at some point, it’s going to get difficult.
Treat your craft with respect. Work hard at it.
Never write something you don’t care about. Well, that’s not true… sometimes you have to do homework.
Nobody wants to read what you’ve written. Your teacher doesn’t. Your parents might. When you have a boss, she is only going to want it to be clear and concise. Heaping more big words on the page for a higher grade is not a way to learn to write.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. This is difficult for everybody. You don’t know that because you’re alone in your room fighting your own demons.
Everybody worries whether they’ve got talent. Michael Crichton, who wrote Jurassic Park and 29 other books, worried he was untalented. In his office bookcase, he had every book he wrote in every language it’d been translated into so he could sit at his desk and look at all he had done and think, “I did that. I can get through the next one.”
You’re never going to figure out how to do it. Every project is a new project with its own invisible rules. For decades I thought I would come up with “my method.” When I finally realized there was never going to be a “method,” my life as a writer got much simpler.
Write about what you’re interested in. I knew nothing about the fall of Saigon, but I made a lot of money because I sold a screenplay based on something I knew nothing about, that fascinated me.
Welcome notes. Do not argue with someone kind enough to give you suggestions on how to improve your work.
It will never be perfect. One reason some people don’t write is because they’re afraid it won’t be perfect. Art & Fear by David Bayles asks “What in your life, up to now, have you ever done that was perfect? Nothing, right? This won’t be perfect either. So just get on with it.”
Keep a diary. Even a simple one. You think you’ll remember stuff but you won’t. It will make a gigantic difference when you’re older.
You’ve got to learn two things. How to write a sentence that’s clean and clear. And how to figure out what you want to say. Technique and emotion. Two worlds to conquer.
It will take years to get good at this! Don’t worry about it if you’re not great now. The wonderful thing about writing is: the more you do it, the better you get!
Don’t despair. If you do despair, at least write about it.
Enjoy the process. On some level, doing it has to be fun. If getting published is the only thing that will make you happy, figure out something else to do with your time. The process of creating the work had better be the reward.
Learn to be businesslike. If you’re not businesslike, people won’t be interested in working with you.
Never miss a deadline. Be early for everything. Selfish people and idiots are late.
No matter how much trouble your writing is in, if you sit down and work on it, eventually you will solve the problem.
Try to write comedy. It’s the hardest thing there is but, who knows, you might be great at it.
Impress your teachers. If they think you’re worth it, they will move heaven and earth to help you.