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Anyone can be a great writer.

December 5, 2010

EminemThere, I’ve said it.  And it’s my firm belief and manifesto.  Many will disagree with me, but it doesn’t make it less true.  If you want, you can be a great writer.  You can write exactly the story or poem or song or article or book that you most want to read.  You can write it so that not one word is less than wonderful.

Great writing comes from developing individual talent.  Whose talent?  Yours.

As long as you have the passion. Listen to the passion instead of your imaginary friend called ego who says, ‘Who do you think you are pretending to be Shakespeare, eh?’  Even Shakespeare had to contend with that voice, and he dealt with it by handing it over to his characters. Here’s Hamlet in the thick of it: ‘How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world.’

As long as you have the nerve. Develop your own style, and develop it to the max.  Don’t compromise on this.  If it’s your thing to write a 2000 word short story exploring middle class angst in the age of divorce, then by all means go ahead.  But you might have an urge to write the perfect shopping list instead.  Follow that urge, not the dictates of the comps in the back of your writing centre’s newsletter.

  • Australian poet Claire Gaskin wrote a poem called ‘Dad’ that is simply a list of the books in the man’s library.  It is beautiful.  (Thanks to Tricia Bertram for introducing me to this poet/m.)
  • Andy Griffiths , children’s writer, wrote worthy stuff for years until he gave into the urge to write what he really thought was funny: bum jokes.  Turns out kids thought they were funny too, and Andy’s books are now New York Times bestsellers.
  • Some people write fabulous sleazy porn.  That’s just their thing.  More power to them!

Don’t turn your stories into clones. If you must be influenced by other writers, only follow the ones you totally love.  Dr Zeuss, Annie Proulx, or that rapper you heard at the club last Friday night.

Be sceptical about EVERY writing rule. (‘Show don’t tell’ can be restrictive.  Yes, it can.)

Don’t worry that you don’t know ‘how’ to write. You do.  You just have to find the key to unlock it.  I highly recommend Freefall and also Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, which will give you tools to discover the courage to write what’s already in your subconscious.

If you don’t write English good, don’t let it stop you.  Seriously.  Jane Austen?  That doyenne of stylish syntax and polished punctuation?  It’s been discovered that her early drafts were messy and ungrammatical.  She had a good editor, that’s all.

Don’t write for the publishers.  Even if you desperately want to get published.  A well-known Australian publisher recently advised aspiring novelists only to submit work that was ‘about communication, not self-expression’.  Sounds fair enough, yeah?  But think about this.  In any conversation, do you want to be told the truth or only what the other person thinks you want to hear?  Your most meaningful writing will come from deep within your heart and damn the consequences.  Of course, it’s about self-expression.

Practise, practise, practiseStephen King put it best when he gave his own writing lesson number 1: ‘Read a lot and write a lot’.

Strive for perfection. Your own perfection, your own terms.

How to sum this up?  I’ll leave it to one of the greatest living writers of English, a writer who is still reviled by most of the world for his out-there work.  Through the early hatred of his peers, his own massive self-doubt, and lack of education and support, he has never given up.  I have no argument with those who say he’s a genius.  No one puts it with more force and less bullshit.  In his own words, the eminent Eminem:

Don’t let em say you ain’t beautiful.  They can all get fucked.  Just stay true to you.

Photo by Courtney Bolton

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2011 1:50 am

    I clicked-through to your blog from the A-list Blogger club. I LOVED this post! I am writer who is learning the craft and I heartily agree with all of the points that you made. It reminds me of the question, “How does I get to Carnegie Hall?” Answer: “PRACTICE.” Thanks for the inspiration and the encouragement!


    P.S. Eminem is a great artist!

    • January 17, 2011 6:35 am

      That’s great, Kim. Carnegie Hall, the local paper’s letters-to-the-editor, the Pulitzer, the school play, Man Booker …

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