How to keep going

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice (with all the usual provisos and apologies and benefit of hindsight)…

Find a compatible writing group and/or author buddy and nurture them so they nurture you – because nothing – nothing! – replaces face-to-face support. Share your work when you’re ready and accept feedback graciously and humbly but beware writing a book by committee; you won’t please everybody even some of the time, so don’t try. (And be kind, generous and as constructively honest as you can within the bounds of friendship when you return the favour.)

Set a training budget and do a gap analysis of your skills and knowledge. Review each on an annual basis and stick to them. Take your writing seriously – but don’t forget non-literary paths to creativity. I get my best ideas in art galleries. Futurism. Weimar art. Surrealism. Be deviant! Be daring! The artist of the modern movement is a savage! (And do try and do some running or walking as well; the benefits on brain activity are beyond dispute.)

Work out how you like to learn stuff – and what methods suits your purse and personality. For me, it was another serious, challenging, nitty-gritty course with Oxford University Department of Continuing Education (a ten-week on-line this time – but the choise is excellent). Don’t be modest! You know more than you think you do – or, if you don’t, you soon will. Yawning your way through the Hero’s Journey for the sixth time is just a waste of effort all round.

Read. Read. READ. All the pundits say this – and, at first, you don’t believe them because you want to write, goddammit! But it’s true. Ring the changes. I read (sometimes in cycle, something simultaneously) a heavy research book – a novel or memoire set or written in the early 20th century – a contemporary book that is either in my genre or a style which intrigues me – something energetic and fun (usually Jack Reacher). When you finish each book ask: What have I learnt from this as a writer?

Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write every bloody day, even if it’s just a well-composed postcard or Tweet. I keep a digital journal (I heart DayOne) and on the days I don’t feel like working on my WIP, I write in my journal about not feeling like working on my WIP. Do a poetry course. Write micro-fiction. Swallow a dictionary – or, better still, a thesaurus. And enter writing competitions; terrifying at first but the discipline of a deadline and word count is good for you – and you may be long-listed. Or short-listed. Or win. Job done.

Forget all that Literary v Genre crap. It only makes you feel insecure and unhappy. Write as well as you can – and then better. Write a rattling good tale that people will read by torchlight after lights out. Write the words of love and special things – because that’s all we really want in the end. Even Jack Reacher.