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Bad, Bad, Absolutely Terrible Ideas About Writing

If you have ever embarked on a creative writing course, there is a good chance you were given "Becoming a Writer" by Dorothea Brande, or "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lammot or numerous other texts written by writers to share their 'secrets' for success. It is also totally possible that you experienced the same as I, complete and total exasperation of the judgemental attitudes of the authors.


"If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write" (Brande, 2019 Kindle Loc 590)


Add that judgemental attitude to the fact that Hemmingway's wife edited and rewrote some of his greatest works. Endless literary husbands stole ideas from their wives' workbooks. Most, if not all, of these writers, tell us that writing is for the non-disabled, the straight, the hard-working, the dedicated, those willing to live in a dustbin.


I know I am not the only writer in this world who ended up in the writing business to be productive around their ill-health. This kind of work suits the variations in my temperament, ability and illness in a way the capitalist structure of 9-5 48 weeks a year would not allow. I am not the only writer who reads with incredulity as these writers expound, going off into their writing hut for days at a time and not seeing family or friends or a shower, without once mentioning how wives, children and home chores fit into these woods. These (often) men who have their cups of tea delivered to them or whose parents can put them up indefinitely whilst writing their opus, the free editing provided by diligent and intelligent wives. I ask you why we hear of Marie Curie, but not Mrs Einstein or Mrs Hemmingway? The answer is not because they were any less brilliant than Mrs Curie.




So, if you read one of these books and you worry you don't have what it takes to be a writer because you have bills to pay, or your body just won't let you wake up every day at 4 am to write morning pages … I'm here to tell them – these things don't mean you can't be a writer. Yes, your progress may be slower than someone has the luxury of committing themselves full time to their art, but you will make progress. And despite what Dorothea Brande would have you believe - opting for sleep or a wage over this dedication to craft does not mean you don't want it enough.


I wrote my first professional play over the head of my then 14-month-old-baby – who was fractious and didn't sleep for longer than 2 hours at a time until he was three. I wrote because I needed to create, and I had things I wanted to work out about the world around me, and so I found the time that worked for me. I don't know if you've breastfed a child for the fifth time in as many hours and needed to do something to occupy your mind, but writing a play is a beautiful distraction.




So, try out these suggestions; morning pages, compulsive daily writing, blocking out the world, experiencing the world etc. but remember only you can know what's best for you. Only you can know if something is helpful or harmful. And just as you wouldn't expect to literally wear someone's shoes and expect to act just like them, you also can't expect that someone else's schedule will work for you. I'd love to hear about what things do and don't work for you. Let me know in the comments below.

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