"It’s a truth worth acknowledging that more people think they have a book in them than ever get round to writing it."
The book aims at helping aspiring writers to find their voice and avoid common mistakes, which make editors cringe. Even if you have no interest in writing but are an avid reader, this slim volume is full of hilarious advice from the likes of Margaret Atwood (who tells writers to show their manuscript to a friend but not "someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up”) and Mohsin Hamid (who said that The Reluctant Fundamentalist took him seven years to write). WRITE. is informal with some entries consisting of just bullet points, and its advice is by no means prescriptive.
It took me about a year and a half to write my first book and I spent two more months (so far) on editing it. Something compelled me to open WRITE. this morning and leaf through it again.
Jill Dawson, the author of Fred & Edie says “There is never a perfect time to write your novel <…> Begin today. That has been my consistent advice in the 20 or so years I’ve been writing, or teaching writing, or talking about writing.” She explains that she understands the temptations of not beginning all too well: there will be no rejections, no bad reviews and no one at a dinner party would ever ask you: “So, should I have heard of you?”
I can relate to that well. Last weekend I was sitting in a café with a writer I hugely admire. He read my book from cover to cover and was about to deliver his verdict. I was so tense that at some point I was going to shout: “No! Don’t tell me anything, let’s just have coffee and talk about anything but…” And then later (we are talking about days later) I felt like a traumatised mother who had given birth and raised a child only to have him taken from her, pulled apart and thrown out there into the cruel world. With books, that’s the point, but try to tell that to the first-time novelist.
In an essay about finding your voice, Meg Rosoff, author of How I Live Now, wraps up her advice with “Stop thinking about your voice. Think about your life instead. Live. Take risks. Seek wisdom. Confront the unconfrontable. Find out who you are. Let your voice gain power as you go."
When I write about current affairs in Russia, I have to do just that: listen and absorb, rather than preach. It’s painful to realise your former classmates are racists, but then I slow down and put myself in their shoes of living in a homogenous society in the middle of Russia and learning about diversity from watching the Wire. I don’t have to take their point of view, but I can understand it.
Roddy Doyle nails procrastination:
"Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.
Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog - “He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.” But then go back to work."
I can quote every single page of the book, but let me leave you with advice from Margaret Atwood:
“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine."
I don’t. Fourth edit, here we come...
WRITE. (That’s the link if you’d like to get a copy from Amazon)