Yesterday, on Twitter, I saw this
and it annoyed the hell out of me.
First of all, to clarify, I thought the Guardian supplement Higson refers to was related to NaNoWriMo which, it turns out, it’s not, but I think my point still stands and here’s why:
In the early nineties when I was trying to be a journalist, I bought a How To Write book. I can’t remember much about it, but I do remember that it put me off trying to be a journalist – and off writing altogether – for, well, years.
One thing I remember clearly was that the author said that if you say you want to be a writer – rather than saying you want to write – you don’t really want to write. At that point, I’d been saying I wanted to be a writer for at least five years. So that bit of the book made my heart sink. Had I just been kidding myself all that time? Was I just messing about with this writing thing? Apparently real writers say they want to write. I was doing it wrong.
Yes, I had no confidence/self-esteem and there may be lots of people who read that and thought “Hey, screw you! I want to be a writer and I will be a writer!” and stuck the book in the recycling. Good for them. But that’s not how it was for me.
Now I still haven’t read the Guardian supplement and I’ve heard it’s not actually very good, but consider this: Someone who had been thinking about writing a book for a long time may have read that supplement and been inspired. They may have been struggling with starting a book and thought the advice laid out in the Guardian seemed useful. And then they saw Charlie Higson’s tweet – Charlie Higson who has written 14 novels – and felt their heart sink. Consider the wording of his tweet: “Any novice writers intrigued by…” What if he’d said, “Any novice writers inspired by…” And some “novice writers” will have been – they really will – and then a successful writer comes along and says no. THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WRITE A BOOK. You’re doing it wrong. And so they don’t try. And their book remains unwritten. Congratulations, Charlie.
I feel a bit bad singling out Charlie Higson – I haven’t read his YA books (too scary for me), but I loved his adult books (and The Fast Show’s Ted and Ralph is a work of beautiful genius) – and he’s certainly not the only author to do this. Every November, I see many many condescending tweets from writers – published and unpublished – saying THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WRITE A BOOK. 50,000 words in 30 days? No. You’re doing it wrong. But they are wrong. All of them. Because, as I said on Twitter yesterday, the only right way to write a book is the way that works for you. And you should feel free to ignore anyone who tells you otherwise.