Improbable as it may seem, ‘What Are You Reading For?’ is one year old – cue streamers, balloons and champagne all round. It’s certainly been busy – I’ve written 61 posts (including this one), welcomed visitors from 68 different countries, and gathered 694 followers. All this would be reward enough, but I’ve also learnt a huge amount, much more than I could ever cram into a single blog post. That isn’t going to stop me trying, however – so I hope you’ll indulge me with a little list…
1) Don’t wait. My only real regret about the blog is that I didn’t start writing it sooner. Don’t make the same mistake. If you’re thinking about starting a blog (or painting a portrait/mastering Spanish/playing the trombone) don’t wait for an excuse to get started. That day may never come. Whatever you have in mind, do it now. You never know how long you’ve got, or where your new path might take you.
2) Do it because you love it. Not only is this important in itself, it’s also what will sustain you when the road gets bumpy. Please God don’t do it because there’s some vague future promise of fame, fortune and beautiful people. Do it because it matters to you, and because you care about it. The plain fact is, I’d keep writing the blog even if no-one was reading it – and believe me, I know exactly how that feels. In the early days, it felt like I was shouting into empty space, listening hard for the echo. Shouting yourself hoarse can be a little frustrating at times. But sometimes, you’ve just got to be patient. Head down, and keep at it – if nothing else, in an uncertain world it’s nice to have somewhere you can exert a little control.
3) Trust yourself. Sometimes the words won’t do what you want them to, no matter how much you coax them. Often I have to drag them kicking and screaming into line. And it regularly feels like I’ve got literally nothing to say. And yet… the thing I’ve learned over this last year is to trust myself, and also the importance of getting started. Get it down. You can’t fix a blank page, and it’s only when you’ve written something that you can start making it better. As Hemingway said, ‘the first draft of anything is shit’ , which has become something of a personal manta to me. I’m thinking of getting it translated into Latin, and tattooed onto my forehead. Hell, if Ernest struggled, there’s no reason why the rest of us shouldn’t as well.
4) Keep at it. One important lesson is the nature of revising, and how vital it is. To quote the mighty Chuck Wendig (whose website is a must for any aspiring writers out there), ‘writing is when you make the words; re-writing is when you make them not shitty.’ Despite the struggle of making square words fit round holes, this bit is often my favourite part of the process – going back over my words, and working out how to make them intelligible. That mostly involves cutting three-quarters of them out – I always over-write to start with, and have to pare it back to the essentials as I go along. There’s something incredibly satisfying about cutting a sentence back to its barest essentials, and bending it to your will.
5) Make time. I tend to write in the evenings – it’s normally the only time I get, although with my new laptop my commute to work has become a lot more productive – I’m banging out this draft on the train, sunlight streaming through the window, looking something of an arse in my shades. But that’s unusual (the writing during the day, not the arse bit), and I’ve grown to love the regularity of those quiet, late-night sessions when everyone else has gone to bed. There’s a touch of Christmas Eve excitement about them, and an air of magic just out of sight – I’ll type a sentence, and surprise myself. ‘Where the hell did that come from?‘ I wonder. I have literally no idea, but sometimes it doesn’t pay to question these things too closely. It’s enough that they make the whole experience worthwhile.
6) Listen for the echo. I really mean it when I say I would keep writing even if no-one was watching, but that’s not quite true. Much of what I’ve achieved over the last year is down to the wonderful support I’ve received, not least from my family who I’m sure are sick of hearing about the bloody blog. But also from all you fellow bloggers, readers, and writers – thank you for stopping by and reading what I’ve written. It’s been a pleasure making your acquaintance, and I look forward to meeting more of you in the future. It wouldn’t be half as much fun without you.
And that’s my year. I’m looking forward to putting more of these lessons into practice in year two – and there’s certainly more to be learned, not least with how I finish my posts. I’ve always struggled to end them neatly, although hopefully that will change. In the meantime, I’ll do the decent thing, and just finish this one right here.
(See what I mean?)