Typewriter
photo courtesy Peter Lindberg
 

If You Want To Write…..The Best Advice for the Aspiring Writer

Posted March 24, 2023
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When I was 21 years old, having just graduated from college, I set off on an adventure.

I went overland across Central Asia, from London to Kathmandu.

Today, you probably could not do the trip, far too dangerous, but in those days, it was easy, and lots of people were doing it.  The simplest way was on what was called The Magic Bus, which for a few £ would drive you the whole way.  I went on the back of a truck and public busses. It was cheaper and more fun.

In those halcyon days, I dreamed of being a writer, and the first thing a writer needed, I thought, was a typewriter. So when I was in Milan, I bought an Olivetti Lettera 22 (above), the then smallest, lightest and most portable typewriter on the market. Think of this as a laptop from the 1970s, with a built in printer and no need to charge or find a wifi connection.

I carried the thing in my backpack (the perseverance of youth), as I made my way across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and down the Khyber Pass into India.

When I finally got to Kathmandu, I got myself a room at the Kathmandu Guest House for about $1 a night. It had a bed, a table and a chair. What else did a burgeoning writer need?

I set up my typewriter and got to work.

I had read, along the way, The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen.  It was all about his adventures in Nepal and in the Himalayas.  For me, at the age of 21, it was inspirational.  So, of course, I wrote to Matthiessen.

I wrote a very long letter, probably 10-15 pages, explaining how he had inspired me to come to Nepal, to set off on a trek into the Himalayas, to be a writer… on and on and on… Sitting in my small room in Kathmandu with my little table, lit only by candlelight, my typewriter clacking away, it was like a dream come true, so I wanted to share the dream with my print mentor. Surely he would have good advice for me.

I went down to the post office in Kathmandu and mailed my letter. Then, I would return to the post office, where they held your incoming mail if you asked them, day after day to await my answer.

Remarkably, about three weeks later, I got it. (Those were the days before Internet, you had to learn to be patient).

There was big fat letter from no other than Peter Matthiessen, addressed to me.

I tore it open with eager anticipation.

There, inside, I found my original letter to Matthiessen. But he had written across the top of the first page in big red letter.

IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, WRITE. BUT DON’T WRITE TO ME.

signed, Peter Matthiessen.

Well, it was at first disappointing, but soon, over time, I came to understand that it was the best writing advice I had ever gotten.

It’s the same thing I tell aspiring filmmakers and documentarians now, many of whom are my students.

If you want to write, or make films, or do anything creative for that matter, just do it.

Then, if it is bad, do it again, and again and again.

You’ll get better.

My writing certainly did.

Just ask my literary agent Alicia Brooks.

She’s busy selling my newest book THE RISE OF THE MEDIAVERSE.

 


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