Some life advice.
Some things I think about things – seventeen things, seventeen things that involve words and typing - that I share only for the purpose of sharing, because honestly, giving advice scares me and really, nobody knows anything. But, if you pushed me, this is what I'd say:
1. There’s a sort of weird audacity to telling stories. You have to think highly enough of yourself that you’ve got something worth saying, but also so highly – you’ve got to have such a fierce sense of self – that when nobody else is reading you don’t take it personally. It’s sort of a dance between daring not to give a shit at the outcome, and caring a whole lot about the process.
2. That’s because you are not your art. Your art is your art. Whether people say it is good or bad, that doesn’t mean you, yourself, are any better or any worse. You’ve still got to remember birthdays and take the bins out and pay the rent and not be a twat.
3. The art is nothing, and it is everything. It isn’t an excuse, and yet the time it takes to make something must be protected ferociously and without apology. Nobody will understand why you must say no to Their Thing so that you might say yes to your own. Only you can decide who you’ll spend energy on explaining it to.
4. To that end, the fucks you’ve got to give are finite. Your one job is deciding where to spend them. That’s tougher than it sounds.
5. When you start out, folks will have opinions about you that skirt, mostly, around how it’s cute you think you might be talented, but obviously this is a phase that won’t last. Once your name is in national press, those same folks tell their hairdresser how they have you on Facebook, using your name like a social currency that makes them cooler by association. You’ll know who they are. You owe them nothing.
6. At the same time, it’s hard to let people be genuinely proud of you. You’ll worry they love you more because you’re “good” at something, and won’t be able to unpick why that bothers you. Don’t burden well-wishers with that. Just say thanks, and talk to your therapist about the other stuff later. Always remember to lead with that: the thank you. If in doubt, “That’s such generous thing to say!” is the classiest way to acknowledge the praise without buying into it too much.
7. People don’t know what they want to read. It’s up to you to write it, and then show them why they should care. Permission to explore what you want to explore is self-gifted. Also: if it’s important to you, it will always be important to somebody else out there, too. Who "gets it" will surprise you.
8. From Instagram captions to “About Me” pages to proposals, pitches and full-length manuscripts: cut everything you write down by half. There’s no “but” to this. Get it all on the page and then edit it ruthlessly. Let it pour out of you in messy globs, and tidy the mess up after. But don’t ever, ever, think so little of your reader that you won’t tidy it up. Show them some respect.
9. Writing a book is horrible. Sitting by yourself, hour after hour, having not showered nor heard your own voice in days if not weeks, is horrible. Missing Christmas and birthdays and Sunday lunch for a deadline is horrible. Filling a page is horrible. Literally the difference between a published and unpublished writer can be the ability to sit through this horror. That’s it.
10. If you don’t read, you’ve no business writing.
11. Find a yoga studio and go there often. Writing is a sedentary occupation often involving biscuits: your waistline and your voice box will need you to leave the house three times a week if only for the excuse of changing into different elasticated-waist clothes.
12. It’s not as awful as you think it is.
13. It’s not as brilliant as you think it is.
14. If in doubt write the next bit and pretend that playing with the chronology was an intentional style choice. Just keep the thing moving, for God’s sake.
15. Don’t keep friends who are writers. It will not end well. There is no jealously like the jealously of intimately knowing somebody with a byline/agent/three-book-six-figure-deal-and-a-massive-publicity-budget. Writers are there to be admired, duly noted, from a distance, not known and envied up close. Plus they’re terribly self-obsessed, anyway.
16. Treat your reader like a mate, a friend, the person you’d tell your secrets to over too much red wine. Trust them, is what I mean. They’re on your side.
17. Finish it. Ship it: show it to the world. Get on with making something else and don't look back.