I’ve been trying this writing thing for a long time now, and while I’m far from an expert, I’ve been around the block enough to come up with a few truisms. These are things that I remind myself of every day. They’re things that discourage me, inspire me, and keep me working. I wish someone had drilled these into my head years before I decided to become a Writer-with-a-capital-W. Hopefully they’re at least entertaining to you, if not useful.
1. There is no magic formula for anything ever.
No matter where you are in your career, you will more often than not find yourself engaged in a conversation with another writer who’s convinced that if she can do something with a certain process, if she can approach her writing consistently in a certain way, she’ll find success – usually in this case, success means publication.
The truth is, it doesn’t work like that. There is no magic formula. Not for publication, not for good writing. Even if you find a method that works for you most of the time, chances are it’s not going to stick forever. And whatever method that Jack Famous Writer uses isn’t necessarily going to work for you. Writing isn’t like building a lever, where you study the pieces and put them together the right way every time. Think of it like this – you build the lever once, and then the next time around, you have to build a better lever.
2. Your writing will not always seem as good as it was before.
I think this happens to a lot of us because when we get better at recognizing the bad, we start seeing so much bad in our own work that we can’t see the good anymore. It happens to me all the time. First drafts suck. They’re not hard to write – they’re just bad. How can you go from a first draft to a final product that you’re not embarrassed to show to people?
Before the reality of the badness in your own writing sets in, it can be easy to think of everything you write as something amazing. Ignorance is bliss. But don’t let it fool you! You are getting better, no matter how difficult it may be to see. In fact, if you’re looking at your writing and going “blech!”, chances are you’ve definitely improved.
3. Everyone is always stressed out.
There is no part of the writing process that is easy on anyone. One of my writing partners described it like climbing a never-ending mountain. You get to a plateau and think that everything from that point on is going to be easy, but you are so wrong. Once you craft a publishable story, you have to play the waiting game. If it gets accepted, you wait for reviews. You have to write a second story, now, too, and it has to be better than the first. And on. And on.
There are no breaks. There are, as I said before, no magic formulas. It’s hard. That’s just the reality of it. But letting the negativity get to you, is the wrong way of going about this. Look around you. Talk to other writers. Everyone is as stressed out as you are. You are not alone.
4. You’ll be happier if you stay flexible.
Rigid deadlines have their place, and goals are important, yes, but if you let everything in your writing career become dictated by expectations and must-dos you’ll find yourself slowly going insane. Keep goals and deadlines in mind, but work toward them in a way that doesn’t resemble a single-minded kamikaze attack. Let your work breathe. Let yourself take breaks. Life is too short to kill yourself over anything.
When it comes to actually working, to getting the words themselves out, let it happen in any way that it wants to. I keep several notebooks (lined and unlined, big and small), in addition to my laptop. Sometimes I find a story really wants to be written on small, unlined notebooks. Weird? Yes, but it works for me. Sometimes I want to take a day off from one story and work on something else. Do I let myself do this if I have a deadline to reach, or a specific goal in mind (ie: I must finish this story before Wednesday or I am not allowed to eat cake for the rest of the month)? No. But if it isn’t crucial, I’ll let my mind wander.
5. Success is relative.
Comparing yourself to other people will never make you happy. When I was a little kid, my parents always told me, “There is always going to be someone smarter than you. There is always going to be someone better at what you want to do than you are. There is always going to be someone more successful than you. There is nothing you can do about it.” Jealousy and petty grudges will get you nowhere.
Am I saying that you need to love everyone equally and forego all righteous indignation? No. A little righteous indignation is good for your blood pressure, it turns out. The point is that having active grudges, dislikes, and “rivalries” with other writers is a waste of time and energy. You have better things to do with that time and energy. Get indignant if you must, but then walk away from that feeling, and stop. Thinking. About. It. Stop comparing yourself. Stop measuring your success against other people’s. Remember the immortal words of Jay-Z: Get that dirt off your shoulder.
What about you, readers? Do you have any pieces of wisdom you wish someone had tried to drill into your head when you were a wee writing sprout? Tell us in the comments!