Now that I’m a renowned author in my own imagination, I feel I am in a good position (dangling lotus) to dish out advice to writers, along with anyone else who happens to be around me after three whiskeys. Here, then, is some advice that is exactly like how I described my ex to that detective I hired: cheap and easy to follow.
The Story Cupboard
The hardest thing for a writer to come up with is rent. The next hardest thing to come up with is an idea. There are two reasons for this. One, the writer may not be very bright. Second, the writer is thinking too analytically. This is when the writer should head to the Story Cupboard.
The Story Cupboard is a place where you stash all your ideas, characters, images and breakfast cereal. Don’t kid yourself: breakfast cereal is an important part of this complete and balanced story.
Open the Story Cupboard door. Move the box of Half-Baked Ideas. Reach past the packages of Stale Metaphors. Ignore the Sanctimonious Saltines. Just stick your hand in there and pull something out. What is it? Bread crumbs. That’s okay. You may need these later to pad your story.
Try again. What do you have? Some Prose Pasta! Excellent. How about a novel about a lonely pasta chef who uses noodles to secretly spells out words on his customers’ plates. We’ll call it Desired Tenderness.
See how easy that was? Now all you need out of your cupboard is some Oregano of Originality and the Chocolate Chips of Procrastination.
You need chocolate to write. And by “chocolate,” I mean possibly more whiskey.
Harness Your Ideas
Now that you have freed your ideas and indulged in whatever you excuse yourself for because you’re an “artist” and “sensitive” and “binging,” it’s time to show those ideas who’s boss. Don’t be intimidated by the blank page. Just start writing. I find it helps to start writing by hand, connecting the brain to the fingers and supporting the struggling ballpoint industry. Any old scrap of paper will do. A blank cheque, for instance. An excellent writing prompt is “Pay to the order of: Ross Murray, Famous Writer.” At this point, I would be happy to look over your work.
Start again. Now write. Keep writing. Don’t even think about what you’re writing. Have a nap if you want, trim your toenails, just don’t stop writing. Think of your writing as that film Speed and you are Keanu Reeves, your text is the bus, and your imagination is Sandra Bullock. OMG, your imagination is adorable! Your cat Timothy, meanwhile, is Dennis Hopper. Stop walking on the keyboard, villainous Timothy/Dennis Hopper! We’re writing here!
Let the words flow. You are galloping through your ideas. Don’t worry about quality. There is no such thing as bad writing. Unless you inadvertently write the screenplay for Speed 2.
Keeping it fresh
If you are not writing historical fiction – and Lord knows you shouldn’t be – avoid making cultural references that are more than 20 years old.
How to get published
Write a really good book and find a publisher who will give you lots of money. Repeat.
What about self-publishing?
Self-publishing is easier than ever and an excellent way to make people around you even more uncomfortable. But that’s okay. You are a writer. You embrace alienation. You thrive on co-workers awkwardly pretending you never sent out that mass work email inviting them to that reading no one showed up to. Many great writers have struggled with lack of appreciation. J.K. Rowling once had to wait 11 whole minutes for her trailer of royalties to show up.
The good news about those uncomfortable looks is that you’ll be used to them when you ask retailers if they’ll carry your self-published book in their stores.
Some say that writing is easy compared to the gruelling but necessary task of editing – crafting your sentences and making sure there are no typos. What nonsense. Editing is high overrated. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiom.
Originally appeared in Life in Quebec magazine, December 2016.