Get a deadline

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article written by Charlie Brooker…

I hadn’t heard of Charlie Brooker until I received an email from my reader Bernadett Rosch-Tam. She kindly sent me a link to an article he’d written for the Guardian website.

Headlined, “Forget those creative writing workshops,” the piece presents a thoroughly dyspeptic view of writing. But — almost against my will — I found myself nodding my head as I read through it.

Sometimes writing goes well, Brooker says. Tick. More often it goes badly, and you find yourself staring off into space. Double tick. There’s no escape from the relentless self-criticism. Tick, tick and tick again.

Here is what Brooker said that resonated most strongly with me:

To function efficiently as a writer, 95% of your brain has to teleport off into nowhere, taking its neuroses with it, leaving the confident, playful 5% alone to operate the controls. To put it another way: words are like cockroaches; only once the lights are off do they feel free to scuttle around on the kitchen floor. 

Thankfully, he offers at least one useful suggestion at the very end of his article:

To everyone who has ever emailed to ask me for advice on writing, my answer is: get a deadline. That’s all you really need. Forget about luck. Don’t fret about talent. Just pay someone larger than you to kick your knees until they fold the wrong way if you don’t hand in 800 words by five o’clock. You’ll be amazed at what comes out.

He’s right. In particular, I share his deep conviction that writing talent is irrelevant. Doesn’t that liberate you?