"When I was a teenager," writes Visakan Veerasamy, "I’d play bass in bands, sing horribly, and toy with the idea of being a songwriter. This is a letter I wish somebody had written to me when I was 17."
Veerasamy's excellent "letter to a young songwriter" applies equally to old book-writers like myself. Salient points include:
- Aim to be prolific, rather than “to be great” or “to have fun.”
- Screw "best." Your definition of "best" will be a moving target.
- Write badly. Deliberately try to write bad songs, rough songs, strange and awkward songs. They’ll teach you more than you’ll learn from writing what you think is “okay."
- Screw originality. It’s a mirage. Learn other people’s songs as much as you can.
- Think less, write more.
- Always Be Creating (Or Listening). If you’re not doing one of the two, you’re probably procrastinating.
The entire letter, which is fairly short, is worth a read.
In fact, all of it rings true based on my experience as a writer, even though it's all ostensibly about songs. Songs or prose, it's all pretty strange advice if you think about it. Try to do something badly? Think about the problem you're trying to solve less?
Writing's tough—especially for adults, who "know better"—because it functions differently from pretty much every other thing you do each day. This means that, in most cases, your instincts about writing something, whatever they are, are probably wrong. Probably.
Your best bet, especially at the beginning of a project—or a career—is an Opposite George: "Nothing's ever worked out for me with tuna on toast. I want the complete opposite of tuna on toast. Chicken salad on rye. Untoasted. With a side of potato salad. And a cup of tea!"
If your writing never works, why would you keep working in the same way you always have?