Pep Talk from Andy Weir

One of the most common questions a writer gets asked is, “Do you have any tips on writing?” Unfortunately, that’s a very broad question. It’s like asking a mechanic, “Do you have any tips on fixing cars?” It’s their whole job and it took a long time for them to learn it. It’s hard to impart any useful information quickly.

But I will say this: The key is keeping your motivation up. You have to actually sit down and put words into your word processor. And, usually, that’s not fun. It’s hard work. So how do you keep yourself coming back to that document day after day?

First off, you have to accept that you’re not going to be blazing away in a creative euphoria all the time. In fact, you’ll almost never be in that state. Usually, it’s a slog. So make your peace with the fact that it is a slog, but that you’re working toward a goal. Writing isn’t like playing music, where the act itself is rewarding. It’s more like gardening, where the work is hard and unpleasant, but the result is beautiful.

Next, you have to accept that your story will change as you write it. Something that’s perfect and awesome in your mind will often be stupid when you write it down. This is not a failure on your part, and it doesn’t mean you suck. It means you’re a writer, and you have begun phase one of making your story better. The moment you try to put things into words is when you find all the problems. That’s natural and normal, and every writer faces it.

And then there’s “flow.” Sometimes, when you’re writing, things come together easily and you can crank out 2,000 words in an afternoon. But other times, it’s torture just to crap out 300 words. In those rough patches, here’s something to keep yourself going: When you read the pages later, you won’t be able to tell which ones you wrote with good flow and which ones were hard. You’re creating the same quality of work in both cases. You might not believe me, but the next time it happens to you, check the results later. You’ll see for yourself. So when you’re having a rough patch, it helps to remember that you’re making progress toward a goal. The words you’re putting down aren’t wasted. They’re just as good as the rest.

And, finally, I have this advice: Resist the urge to tell friends and family your story. I know it’s hard because you want to talk about it and they’re (sometimes) interested in hearing about it. But writers have a dirty little secret: We are mainly motivated by our desire for people to experience our stories. We want an audience. We need it.

Telling your story to friends verbally satisfies that need for an audience, and it diminishes your motivation to actually write it. So make a rule: The only way for anyone to ever hear about your stories is to read them. You can still give it to them chapter by chapter—so you get the sweet, sweet external validation that you crave during the process. But no telling the story outside the pages.

If you do that, you’ll at least finish the book.

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Andy Weir is the bestselling author of Artemis and The Martian. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail.