Six top tips for writers:
- Write every day. Set a time that’s yours for writing every day, including weekends. If you write at the same time every day, it’ll become habit after a month or two and your creative brain will be ready to go when you sit down. It also means you won’t have to have the argument with yourself about whether you’re too tired to do it or if you should eat/watch TV/exercise/snooze/feed the children before you write. It will also train your partner/children/friends to respect this time and leave you alone, so you don’t need to justify it to them. Even if you can only allocate 30 mins a day, it counts and you’ll get stuff done. Words will accumulate. If you can type fast and get into a flow, you can knock out 500 words in 30 minutes – and some of them might be great.
- You’ve got to write A LOT. I mean, hundreds of thousands of words before you start to find what makes your writing different from everyone else’s, and for you to make unconscious the dozens of separate skills that must be employed simultaneously to make fiction that affects your reader. Know that your own work will disappoint you for the first couple of years – Ira Glass says it perfectly here.
- Always have your reader in mind. If you’re writing for yourself, you’ll be lazy. The most important part of any communication – including fiction – is the response you get from the reader. Your job is to give them an experience, not just to relate a bunch of events occurring over a period of time.
- Listen to audiobooks. It’ll train your ear to good writing, and you’ll able to fit more reading into your busy schedule – when you’re doing the dishwasher, driving, whatever.
- Learn to touch-type. There are a few very practical reasons why, and one that’s a theory of my own. Firstly, it’s much faster than banging away with two fingers. Secondly, if you make a career of writing, you’ll write millions of words over a lifetime – your fingertips will hit your keys many millions of times. Imagine the state your index fingers will be in if they’ve born the force of all that work. You’ll be working with a pair of arthritic Twiglets. Spread the load, use 10 fingers. Thirdly, have you noticed how when you’re making something up or remembering something, you look in different directions? It’s how the police can tell if you’re remembering an event or using your imagination. Writing involves a blend of memory and imagination, and therefore looking up and down and left and right. If you have to look at your keyboard to work, you can’t access different parts of your brain while you’re actually typing. If you can look anywhere while typing, or even close your eyes, you’ll get into a state of flow much more readily, and you won’t get the horrible back and neck problems that come from drooping your head all day (P.S. this is just my own personal theory – it’s awaiting verification).
- Scrapbook and note-take like you’re addicted to it. Use physical books or boxes of papers or – my preference – an online cloud service like Evernote to record every idea that floats through your consciousness every day, every article that sparks your imagination, photos you dig, weird stuff you hear people talking about on the train. Stockpile everything – it’ll form the compost that you grow your best ideas from.
The books that have most influenced me:
Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
The first book I remember reading. I read it over and over on the rug of my nursery school library corner and I still read it now.
A Pictorial History of Science Fiction – David Kyle
My uncle gave me this book from his own collection when I was about seven. It’s huge and packed with sci-fi illustrations from the sixteenth century through to 1976 when it was first published. I love it as much today as I did then, and have spent hundreds of hours admiring its contents.
The Neverending Story – Michael Ende
When I was miserable at school and using fiction to escape, I recognised myself in Bastian Balthazar Bux, the boy in The Neverending Story who escapes the pressures of school life by reading about the adventures of Atreyu, who is on a quest to save Fantastica — one of the most wonderfully drawn fantasy worlds. It’s a parable about protecting your imaginative powers as you grow up, and not succumbing to ‘the nothing’ that fills most people’s minds.
The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
I discovered this long short story through an MTV spot that featured the first few sentences. It was the story that turned me on to short story writing and opened up the crack between reality and fantasy that I’ve been playing in ever since.
Naked Lunch – William Burroughs
I read this when I was 18 and wanted to be a beatnik. There’s no better manifesto for experimentalism than this 250-page head-fuck.
The Angel – Patrick McGrath (Penguin 60s)
The Penguin 60s editions came out when I was a student and were only 60p so I could afford to buy them even when I was at the bottom of my overdraft. What a perfect way to discover new authors. These were a treasure, and my favourite was McGrath’s The Angel. These books rekindled my love of short stories and got me writing them for the first time.
Tough Tough Toys for Tough Tough Boys – Will Self
Oh, you can do that with a short story? Reading Will Self for the first time was like discovering a new colour in the spectrum.
The Complete Short Stories – JG Ballard.
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
I found Haruki Murakami through MTV too — he was “M” in MTV’s A to Z of cool stuff from Japan. I love Murakami’s wild imagination, and his clean, simple style. I’ve gobbled up every one of his books, but Wind-Up was the first of his I read, and so it’s just a little bit more special to me.
Adam Marek is the award-winning writer of two short story collections – Instruction Manual For Swallowing and The Stone Thrower – both published by Comma Press. He won the 2011 Arts Foundation Short Story Fellowship, and was shortlisted for the inaugural Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. His stories have appeared in many magazines, including Prospect and The Sunday Times Magazine, and in many anthologies including The Best British Short Stories 2011 and 2013. Visit Adam online at www.adammarek.co.uk