Writing Advice (To My Younger Self)

I recently had the extreme pleasure of being interviewed by Ian Hines for is wonderful new project, Intrvws. Ian is an extremely skilled interviewer especially via email. He takes his time developing smart questions and is very comfortable letting people take a while to think about and compose an answer. As evidence, our interview was conducted via email between August 1 and October 4, 2010 (Two months!). I’m incredibly proud of having been a part of it.

I really urge you to read the whole thing, but I wanted to post a particular section here. It is the writing advice I wish I had given my younger self. I encounter young and just starting writers all the time and have given them all manner of hodgepodge advice.Henceforth, I will point them to this:

Ian:

I wonder, if you had the opportunity to send some advice to your younger self to read as you were first beginning to write on the web, what would it be?

Patrick:

Focus on writing well. Read as many posts and books on writing as you need to learn the craft without letting it distract you from, well, writing. Because, after a certain point, no book or post or advice will ever help you as much as putting those words down.

Also learn how to edit your writing to turn it into something other than a collection of words ordered according to some universally agreed to rules. Because some of those rules should be broken. In fact, many should have never been agreed to in the first place. Because those rules can stifle you from finding your own voice if followed too rigidly. More often than not, what you will be editing out of your writing is the rules.

Spend at least twice as much time editing as you do writing. Slave over every detail, sweat every word and punctuation mark. Read what you write over and over again. In fact, never stop yourself from revisiting something you wrote and improving or expanding on it if you feel it would make it better. Even something as simple as adding a comma where there should have been one can change the feel of an entire essay.

Be curious about everything but find one or two things that your are insatiably curious about and interested in. A subject or two that you can never know too much, or think too deeply, about. Write about these things.

Also, ignore the numbers. Ignore the audience. Ignore the fact that, for a very long time, no one may be reading. Just make sure that you are. Be your own biggest fan (when warranted) and harshest critic (when warranted).

Finally, do what I say, not what I do.

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