i don’t know how to get started.

not surprising. in school, they tell you that it’s ok not to know how to write in elementary school. then you get to high school and they assume that you already know how it’s done. and you progress to university and they expect your innate ability to write creatively and critically to have developed. overnight. or at least over the summer between high school and university.

it doesn’t.

unless you have been lucky and, like those people who draw, paint, or sing naturally, have been able to create writing out of the air, you have been left completely alone in the wilderness of an art form and instructed that it is a skill that you were given at birth, leaving you to feel inept and incomplete, deficient as a human and angry at the whole discipline of english for making you feel this way.

i blame your teachers.

i can say that. i’m one of them. not yours, perhaps, but other people’s. i teach english literature and creative writing methods to secondary and college-aged students.

we’re going to start with the myths of writing. it’s difficult to grow a tree on a dead stump; you will now be given the chance to unlearn everything that you have been taught about writing. and that, as they say, is a good thing.

why, you ask? it will leave us a clean slate for new learning about how to write creatively without any of the dead wood lying limp and albatross-like around our collective necks.

 

myth one — writing by numbers.

writing is simple. that doesn’t mean that it’s in any way associated with arithmetic. one plus one is two. it is today, it is tomorrow, it will be two until the earth melts into a fiery ball and descends into the sun. and after that, it will be two but it will cease to matter much. i believe that you get the point.

there are some things that you learn and some things that you experience. and writing is an art. there is no manual (especially not this one, although i do write books on how to write and, if that sounds contradictory, we shall deal with that later). i can help you to do it. i can even help you while you do it. but i cannot tell you the answer and have it come back at me as good writing. there is a process inside your mind that must exert itself on the words or we simply have repetition. and that’s not writing.

 

myth two — writing is a gift.

it’s not. you are not born with the ability to write. we have language at birth, it is true, but that is a far cry from creative writing. just because you can think in words doesn’t mean that you can write in them. you can communicate. but, once again, i emphasize that communication is not writing.

you learn how to write. whether it be from your parents, from your teachers, from your friends, from me, or from trial and error, there is a learning process. so give ye not up hope if writing has not come along with a sharp stick and struck you across the head. writing is no more a gift than the ability to add numbers. it is a learned skill and you are capable of it just as much as anyone else.

 

myth three — writing is slow.

it can be. but it is far from a requirement. i wrote my first full-length novel in three weeks. including editing and publication time. and don’t think that i’m special. thousands of people every year participate in national novel writing month. that’s a month where you produce a complete novel. in a month.

i am not going to tell you that you are a bad writer because you write slowly. but it’s a good sign that something is wrong.

write quickly. edit later. there is only one way to get better at writing. and that is to write more. quantity is good. we can work on quality later.

more myths next time. remember, have to get rid of the stump before we can plant the new tree.