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Here's the Thing: Writing Advice
Finally some advice that I'm not at all qualified to give.
A MASSIVE SWEETIE:
Hey I’m a writer I’m about to graduate and I was wondering if you had any advice about where to start in a writing career. If you have any advice please let me know and thank you for your time!
Of all the advice which I feel qualified to give (much of which I most certainly am not, never having been divorced or cheated on or left at the alter or what have you), writing advice is not one. Mostly, out of a sense of “Who the fuck am I to tell anyone there is a good way to do things?!?!” although, as we’ve established, when it comes to dating and love advice I certainly don’t harbor this qualm. It just seems unduly cocky to be like, “Yes, here is good writing advice.” THAT SAID, here is what I have to say about writing.
The hardest part of writing is writing. I’m not sure who first said this, but it was probably one of the first people with written language. Having ideas is incredibly, incredibly fun. Writing itself rarely is. (Sometimes, it’s delightful and easy breezy beautiful CoverGirl; most of the time, no). That isn’t to say that it’s a difficult job; I think you have to have some awareness that this is not manual labor in 90 degree heat for twelve straight hours. This is not singlehandedly running a preschool full of sick children. It’s a dream to get to write; my point is: the hard part of writing is actually doing the work. If you just have ideas of things to write, I’m sorry, but you’re not writing.
If you don’t like finishing things, writing professionally is probably not for you. If you aren’t good at sitting down and making yourself do things, writing professionally is probably not for you. This, of course, is not absolute. And there’s TONS of non professional writing out there that is laden with value.
Anyway, that’s my first piece of advice: actually do the work and finish some of the things you write. (Not everything is finish-able. Usually, you get better and faster at telling what you cannot do). Many of the people who have “failed” at writing haven’t actually ever finished things, and aren’t being outright rejected as much as they are just not doing the work required.
Second: writing is not a meritocracy. It’s not even one singular entity or industry, but in almost every writing space you’ll need to square up with the fact that a lot of shitty writing gets published (which is good news in some ways because some day you’ll write something shitty that will get published). Often, like a lot of society, the arc of success bends in favor of straight cis white men with good connections and enough money to faff about writing snippets for the New Yorker or whatever. Maybe that’s you; probably it is not. Those people will succeed even when they suck. Sorry. Other people will, too, though. There’s a lot of space. There are a lot of jobs. Good work will out if you keep at it.
And here’s where we get to another shitty truth: you’re going to have to write for free. I mean maybe there’s a few people out there who have been paid to write from the very beginning. Mostly journalists who were born in the 50s who lived in a golden era of staff writing jobs and kids of rich, famous people, honestly, but maybe it happens. The vast, vast unfair as hell likelihood is that you’ll have to do a lot of writing for no money before you can write for money. Is that ethical of publications? No. Is this a good model? No. If you can find a way to avoid this truth should you? SURE! But you’ll likely not be able to. So find places that don’t pay and submit your work (also submit to places that do, but understand the odds). Once you’ve gotten more things published for no money, it’s easier to “sell” yourself as a writer.
On a more personal, practical level: figure out what works for you. Most writers I know are very particular, almost ritualistic about writing. Sure, they make take notes on the subway or leave themselves a voice memo while cooking lasagna, but their actual writing is usually done in the same way each time. For me, I had to admit that I get nothing done at home. I simply do not believe my home is for writing. Even if I have a desk. I “have” to go to cafes, which is expensive and foolish, to be sure, but I’ve found that for my productivity it is worth the price. Figure out what works for you. What time of day do you like to write? Do you like outlines? Do you need breaks? Do your best ideas come when you’re walking around? Figure out your productivity quirks and then cater to them like they’re a demanding mean old emperor. Don’t fight your patterns; writing is difficult enough.
Lastly, practice. I’ve always kind of assumed that the first 7,000 things I would write would suck and then the next 7,000 would suck a bit less, and then the next 7,000 might be “Ok.” And so on and so on. So my goal was always to get those first 7,000 things out of the way by writing them. (I’m obviously making up these numbers). The only way out is through. Writing is both skill and talent. You can get better at skill. But only if you write a bunch of stuff that sucks.
Ok, my actual last thing: this might all be bullshit to you and that’s fine. Ignore what you want to, pick up what you like.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter, she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. She’s also working on a book and at least five TV pilots at any given moment. (But for real, there will be a book soon). You can reach her or yell at her at email@example.com.