If there’s one bit of writing advice I’ve taken to heart and follow religiously — and will give it to every other aspiring writer — it would be this:

Write every day.

Three simple words, but so much nuance.

I’m not saying to drive yourself into exhaustion and illness by forcing yourself to get those five hundred pitch-perfect words down on paper or screen.  I’m not even saying you must sit down and make the effort at all.

I’m saying this:  think about what you write, every day.  Writing does in fact include the process of thinking and plotting and letting the idea percolate for a while.  Sometimes that’s all you need to do: just…think about your current project.  Untangle that stubborn mass of threads and let it play out.

It took me a long time to learn this, to be honest.  When I first vowed to write every day, I took it literally.  I tried to write something creative and new every day, whether it was for my work in progress or a new story idea or a poem or song.  That drove me to frustration pretty damn quick, and the resulting lack of any work at all only made it worse.

I soon chose to reinterpret that bit of advice:  Do something writing-related every day.  I started this by starting a year-long transcription project of my old writing.  I’d wanted to do that anyway to have it in digital form, but it also let me evaluate what I’d done over the last ten or so years since I was a teenager.  It let me see how far I’d come, what worked and what didn’t, and gave me ideas where to go next.  And eventually I made it a point to sit down at the PC and work on something, whether it was a journal entry or a blog post or project notes or what have you.

And eventually I got to where I really did want to be: writing something new every day.

Presently I’m doing the same exact thing with my artwork.  I’m currently working on a personal project that involves some drawing of self-portraits and other people and things alongside blocks of text.  I started this a few weeks ago and I’m drawing at least one page a day.  I’m reminding myself that these are pencil sketches and don’t have to be perfect.  Sometimes I’ll get a page done in fifteen minutes, other days I’ll do a bit throughout the day before it’s done.  I’m definitely seeing a marked difference in quality, which surprised me at first, because while I think I’m a decent artist, I’m nowhere near my top potential. This is mainly due to the fact that I haven’t done any daily drawings for years and I’m woefully out of practice…but occasionally I’ll do a sketch that surprises me and makes me proud.

It’s all about practice, really.  You don’t have to be perfect every time you get a pen in hand or start tapping away at the keyboard, or even when you pick up that guitar or those drumsticks.  Hardly anyone is a genius from the get-go.  [If you doubt me, listen to some Beatles bootlegs, especially where John Lennon is involved.  He flubs guitar licks and vocals something fierce.]

Practicing every day doesn’t make you a perfect writer or musician or artist either.  But it definitely helps you get closer to that point.  So write every day, even if it’s just a rough sketch of your character’s neighborhood.  Even if it’s just to kvetch about your Day Job in your journal.  Even if it’s to animate a BongoCat.  Even if it’s to play that twelve-bar blues one more time.

Write every day.  It all adds up.

On Writing Advice

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I’ll be honest, the first bit of writing advice I’ve always given to people, especially now that I’m making the occasional appearance on convention panels is this:

Have fun with it!

No, seriously, have fun with your writing!  I could give you stodgy advice like ‘write [x] words a day’ or ‘read so-and-so’s book on writing’ or ‘you should follow these certain rules to be successful’ or something like that, but I won’t.  And I certainly won’t provide pithy quotes you can Photoshop against a picture of your local picturesque creek bathed in sunlight.

I don’t necessarily dismiss those things; if they work for you, by all means, keep using them!  They may have worked for me in the past, but I realized they really didn’t do enough for me.  It was a bit of cheerleading, but didn’t necessarily give me the drive.

No, I realized my drive came from having fun with it.  This isn’t just about breaking grammar rules, though.  I’m talking about all the parts of it.  Go places you (and your readers) wouldn’t expect to go.  Write something a bit outside your comfort zone.  I’ve said it before, my default reaction to writing rules is often: well, why not?  And then I’ll see if I can pull it off.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’ll have learned something out of it either way.

I’m not saying be a rebel for the sake of being a rebel; this is more about making the process of writing enjoyable for you, the writer.  Go for what excites you about the craft, no matter how big, small, epic or esoteric.  Whether it be fan fiction, memoir, expanded universe, or experimental, it’s all about whatever enthralls you while you’re writing it.  The canvas is a hell of a lot more welcoming than you might think.