Bash it out now, tart it up later.
These are the words I live by, and they are also the best advice I can share with aspiring writers. They come from Nick Lowe, the musician who wrote “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?,” so you wouldn’t necessarily think they apply to writing books, but they do.
In brief, what these words mean is that if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Regularly and with discipline. Even on the days when you don’t want to. Even when you aren’t “inspired.” You have to apply your tush to the seat, open the computer or pick up the pencil, and get the words on the page.
Why, you might ask? Isn’t it better to wait until you have a great idea? Well, no. First of all, where do you think great ideas come from? Sure, sometimes they strike in the shower, or in the middle of the frozen food aisle. But more often – and more reliably – they come about because you’re trying to write a scene that seems like it’s going nowhere, your characters are bored (and boring you) and then … suddenly, one of them stumbles across a body. Or a stranger. Or a cat who looks up and starts talking. Because you have been making yourself do the hard work – putting words down on paper – you open yourself up to the new idea, the lightning strike. The inspiration.
Writing well is a skill, and like any skill it only improves with practice. Want to play an instrument and make music, instead of noise? Practice. Want to learn how to hit a softball so that it actually goes somewhere? Practice. Same with plot and characters. If you want them to sing – to sound right, if you want them to go anywhere, you have to have more than inspiration, you have to develop the basic skills. And the way you do that is by writing. Even when you’re not inspired, even when you have nothing to say.
I write every day, Monday through Friday. And as I work on my 19th mystery, I still have days when I don’t think I have anything to say. But by this time, I know that if I keep at it, I will. And then, of course, I will have to revise what I’ve written… but that’s a lesson for another day!
A recovering journalist, Clea Simon is the author of 17 mysteries and three nonfiction books. Parrots Prove Deadly is the third in her Pru Marlowe pet noir series. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband Jon and their cat, Musetta, and can be reached at: