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Writing tips and tricks

The first draft of anything is sh**.

Don’t take it from me. That’s a direct quote from Papa himself, Ernest Hemingway. First drafts are not perfect. They’re nowhere near perfect. Internalize that fact, and you’re free to enjoy the act of writing.

All great art is uninhibited.

We know great artists when we see them, no matter what their domain. We know them because they represent everything we want to be: free and pure creatives.

You can’t look at a photograph of Janis Joplin singing and see an artist who inhibits herself.

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If I hold back, I’m no good. I’d rather be good sometimes, than holding back all the time. – Janis Joplin

You never saw a shred of self-consciousness in Jimi Hendrix when he played.

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I used to live in a room full of mirrors; all I could see was me. I take my spirit and I crash my mirrors, now the whole world is here for me to see. – Jimi Hendrix

As writers, we must strive for that level of purity. And we can’t do that if we over-analyze our first drafts. First drafts are for one thing and one thing alone: collecting our thoughts; spilling out our spirits.

If you could peer under the paintings in the Louvre, you’d be surprised at what you’d see: clumsy shapes, awkward outlines and errant strokes. Every masterpiece starts with a sketch.

Writing is the same.

Your first draft is a clumsy sketch.

Don’t worry about it being perfect. Don’t even worry about it being good. Just get the words down on paper, have fun while you’re doing it, and then do what all the truly great writers do: re-write, re-write, re-write.

Never show your first draft to anyone.

That’s like going on a first date and pulling down your pants on the way to the movie theater. It’s too much, too fast. Think of your first draft as a metal frame that you can hammer into a work of art. Let your subconscious do the talking, and you’ll get swept up in the joy of pure creation. That’s the deep well in the dark forest that all great writers eventually find.

Writing is conflict.

It really is that simple. You can break it down into a formula:

Character desires x;
y stands between character and x;
character defeats (or is defeated by) y.

If there is no conflict in your writing, you may as well be penning descriptive pamphlets for your local nursing home. You’re just putting words down on paper.

Writing isn’t easy.

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. – Kurt Vonnegut

Embrace the fact that writing is one of the most difficult, underpaid, under-appreciated forms of art in the world. 81 percent of Americans say they “have a novel in them.” You can probably count on one hand the number of people you personally know who have written a novel.

Wear that hard work as a badge of courage.

Prove to the world that you have the doggedness to see it through to the end — that you could spend every free moment for two years slogging through re-write after re-write with little hope of remuneration or acclaim.

Writing is an act of faith.

The long difficult hours between now and your finished manuscript are the guardians at the gate. They stop almost everyone who tries to enter. With persistence, you can be one of the rarefied few who make it through.

Note: This post was originally submitted on Quora.

Fredrick Marion

Fredrick Marion

I like books that refuse to let you sleep at night. I like coffee, talking animals and hearing from readers. Sign up for my email newsletter, and I'll send my latest blog posts to your inbox!

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