4. Health

“So, what’s your advice for aspiring writers?” This is a question writers get a lot, in podcasts, magazine interviews, on-stage appearances. It’s one of those questions that a writer has to have an answer for, because otherwise you just end up staring like a frightened rabbit. What is my advice for aspiring writers?

I have  a few canned answers for this, ready to go, and they’re all absolutely honest and, I hope, helpful. They’re predicated on the fact that I don’t think there is any difference between an “aspiring” writer and a writer. I try to find things that will apply to all writers, and that’s harder than it seems, because we are all so different, and trying to force ourselves into someone else’s brain-hack is a bad idea (for example, my years trying and failing to be a 5 a.m. writer.) So often, you hear advice like “write every day”, which works for some and not others. Even “don’t give up” isn’t universally helpful; some writers do need to take a furlough, or find the emphasis on barreling through, the framing of art as a battle, more harmful than helpful.

So what is universal? What applies to all writers?

Well, here’s what I’ve got.

  1. When you are falling asleep and you get an idea, and you think “I don’t need to write that down because I will remember it in the morning,” you are wrong. Write it down.
  2. Move your body a little from time to time to the extent that you can, get as good a night’s sleep as you can manage, and drink a glass of water.

We all want to think of ourselves as disembodied channels for the muse or whatever, but the fact is, we are meat-bags. Our brains work better when they’re not exhausted and dehydrated. Not everyone can get a good night’s sleep, I realize. Not everyone can go for a walk. But taking care of one’s health as much as we can and in the particular ways that we can is a good idea, for the art as well as ourselves.  Forget the romanticizing of suffering for one’s art. It’s crap. Art is by its nature sustaining. Destroy evil, not your wrists.


Drink a glass of water. Yep. That’s the exercise. Do it now.


“I believe I want this more humane existence for my next – to spread carelessly among one’s friends – to feel the width and amusement of human life: not to strain to make a pattern just yet: to be made supple, and to let the juice of usual things, talk, character, seep through me, quietly, involuntarily, before I say Stop and take out my pen.” Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary.

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