Things I wish I’d known at 18

1. Don’t waste your energy.
Decide what you’re going to write about and stick with it. Experimentation is fine, but these should always be left for tinkering at weekends, like a mechanic might work on restoring vintage cars as a hobby. Keep the day job until the big bucks come your way.

2. Work at it.
Determination be thy friend. Don’t give up on a project. Finish it. All it requires is an act of will. Nothing else will do the trick.

3. Ignore naysayers.
What might matter to a professional literary Critic might not be the view of the public at large. In fact this is probably axiomatic. Same for family and friends. Everyone has a different agenda, and they all want your attention right this minute. Our lives are bombarded by trivial little voices who simply can’t wait to start wagging their mouths. These little voices are sappers of karma, time vampires who sink their attention seeking little canines into your creative neck and insist, without bothering to read more than a couple of paragraphs that you’ve written that “You’re wasting your time.” They will almost always be wrong.

4. Don’t rush it.
Great. You’ve finished it. Your great work. Now put your magnum opus aside for a week before reading it like a reader would. Tighten up sentence structure. Eradicate those excess articles. Punish those pleonasms. And spell check, spell check, spell check. Take your time. Get it right. This is important.

5. Don’t worry about publisher rejections.
Everyone gets rejected. You, me, everyone. Publishers will take on what they think they can sell and make money on. They, like you and me are mere mortals and therefore subject to the immutable cosmic laws of cock-up. They guess, go with their gut instinct, or are simply too busy or hard up to plough through a ‘slush pile’ of unknowns. This provides a very large rabbit hole for your literary tour de force to fall through. Simply tidy and reformat your work, then resubmit after a year. By then it is likely that they will have hired different readers, have actually drunk coffee that morning, or decided to look for new markets. Well, enough to get the story you’re trying to tell. We all have off days. Some more than others. And even closed minds open occasionally.

6. Believe, but not too much.
So you have a cause. Whoop-te-do. So have half the idiots on the planet. People with ’causes’ are at the root of half the world’s evils. They believe hard and too much. So don’t be one of them.

7. Read primary sources.
Not newspaper reports based on press releases. Dig deep for the scholarly papers on your subject and read carefully. Trust but verify. If you’re going to write about it, research. Read more than one source. It will pay off, eventually.

8. Remember that people like drama.
Drama fulfils a deep human need for stimulation. The thirst for the new, the immediacy of novelty. Everyone, apart from autistic souls who can’t connect with others.

9. Learn the ‘rules’ of writing.
Mainly to learn how to break them properly. Always remember that ‘rules’ are sometimes only guidelines. “For the guidance of the wise, and the adherence of fools.”

10. Make time for yourself.
Time outs are important. Chill, step away from the day to day craziness. Stop reading the news and blogs that drive you nuts. Make friends and spend quality time with them. Drink coffee, watch the birds. Do whatever makes you most relaxed. Whatever form that takes.

11. Ease up on the illicit substances.
Getting drunk or stoned is human. We all do it. Well, most of us. Either to celebrate or decerebrate, maybe both. Sometimes we need a little chemical assistance to soften the blows of life. Have a session, a binge to ease the pain. The trick is not to let intake take over.

12. Don’t forget family.
Even if they are…. well, let’s not go there. Remember birthdays, send a card or message. Stay in touch and be civil at the very least. When the chips are down, they’ll be there for you. Even if you behave like an idiot most of the time.

13. Learn the power of ‘No’.
Sometimes, no matter how much you care about or respect someone, you are going to have to refuse them. Learn to do it gently.

Here endeth the lesson.