As far as tips for the modern writer go, this is an obvious one—and I’m certainly not the first person to advocate it—but lately it’s been the most helpful piece of advice anyone’s ever given me. The fact that I gave it to myself makes me doubly happy.
My brothers and I, we’re all massive fans of the Thames television adaptation of The Wind in the Willows from the mid-eighties. Do you know the one I mean? The one with David Jason as the voice of Toad and Chief Weasel, and Michael Horden as Badger. Anyway. At the beginning of each episode, the narrator—Ian Carmichael—does a little scene-setting, speaking over a series of real-life stills of the great British countryside, giving the viewer a rich, evocative description of the riverbank in spring… or of the Wild Woods in winter… or the rolling meadows at the height of summer. Granted, it gets a bit cloying after six straight episodes, but it does succeed in lending a timeless quality to the idyllic version of Edwardian England in which these tales are set.
People often ask me how the writing’s going. Right now the answer is: really well, thanks—and for once it’s not a lie. I’m being as productive as I’ve been in a long time, and I’m loving it. The words are flowing like… er, well, something really flowy. Anyway, as I write, things occur to me. So, I write them down. I wouldn’t want to start offering too much in the way of advice on this whole writing thing, but these things seem to be working for me, so I’ve decided to start sharing them…
Here, then, is the first of my daily* writing tips:
“That scene you keep putting off writing, because it’s too raw, or cringey, or because it exposes your protagonist’s vulnerability, or because—hell—it’s just too damn tense… that scene is the one you need to write. It’s the one your readers want the most. It’s those scenes, or passages, or even monologues, that they’ll dig the most. So, write it. Drink some coffee, neck some wine, shoot some smack**—whatever it takes—and just write it. Knock it out, raw and uncensored. And then… breathe. Smile. Close your notepad, or laptop, and leave it for a few days. You will need to come back to it, and probably rewrite it completely, but for today you’re done. Congrats. Go have an ice-cream.”
*The likelihood of me maintaining this on a daily basis is laughably low. Let’s try it, though.
**Do not shoot smack. This is not something I would advocate, under any circumstances.