If I could go back in time and tell my younger self just one thing, it'd be this: don't write it if you don't feel it. I can't go back in time, but I can tell beginning writers now what I wish I knew then. It's a simple rule. Unlike most rules in writing, it's one I believe can never be broken.
Don't write it if you don't feel it.
I would have avoided so many unfinished projects, so many false starts. Which isn't to say I don't have the occasional failure these days, but I have definitely seen an increase in my yearly production.
It's the secret that any great writer who deserves his or her fame knows. For me, it was like a revelation. Today, I don't even consider anything I wrote before I learned the secret worth publishing.
In his book about writing, Ray Bradbury says he stumbled upon the secret in his early twenties. Up until then, he had never written anything meaningful at all. One day he wrote a short story about a childhood event: he was at the beach and a little girl he had been playing with went into the ocean, but didn't come out. For the first time in his life, he felt that he had written something truly beautiful because he had written something that he felt.
Later, he wrote Fahrenheit 451, which he claims wasn't the cautionary tale about censorship that many made it out to be; he says the concept arose from his love for books, plain and simple. Whatever his reasons, he felt something when he wrote that story. It wasn't just a cool idea he had one day.
And another example: in an article published in the June issue of this year's Asimov's, science fiction writer Cory Doctorow claims the best piece of advice he ever received was when James Patrick Kelly told him: "You need to learn to sit down at a keyboard and open a vein."
Many beginning writers try to make a story out of any and every cool idea that comes along. Then they wonder why only their friends and family love it. Yes, the story itself is the most important element, but it's meaningless without the heart.
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