Ever dream of being a writer? Here are ten things I wish a more seasoned writer would have shared with me.
1. Writing really is a process.
Writing really is about the journey. Your challenge is to figure out the nature of your process and get into the flow of the work and tweak the process as necessary.
2. Write in the pockets.
Many aspiring writers assume that writing demands long stretches of uninterrupted time. If you wait for these uninterrupted periods, you will never write. Learn to write in the smaller pockets of time—ten minutes, half an hour, an hour and a half.
3. Never try to write and edit at the same time.
Get the words on the page then return and rework it. See Anne Lamott on the crappy first draft for an eloquent explanation.
4. Successful writing is revision.
Don’t expect lyrical prose to flow out of your fingertips. Serious writers revise their way into beautiful sentences, paragraphs, pages, and chapters. Make several passes over the work so as not to overwhelm yourself. Read and tweak once for flow. Put the work aside, read, and refine another time for word choice. Put the work aside. You get what I mean. This is the kind of work you do in those smaller pockets of time
5. Perfectionism is the enemy of production.
In every phase of the writing process, avoid the trap of perfection. Don’t bother striving for it. When you think you are finished, don’t worry whether or not the work is perfect; instead, concern yourself with whether or not you find the work clearer and more compelling than in the previous draft.
6. You are the authority.
I attended a reading by Edward P. Jones, author of the brilliant novel The Known World. Someone asked him if he was led my some kind of muse. Jones explained that he had to give himself god-like authority to craft the story and its characters. My own agent told me another version of the same thing shortly after I began writing my memoir. Whether fiction or non-fiction, every author must conceive the story and give it shape. Shy away from this responsibility and your writing will feel and read like a mess.
7. Personal satisfaction facilitates good writing.
My own life has taught me that fundamental dissatisfaction, inner turmoil, and strife do not improve writing. If you are a person who has cultivated a deep awareness, then you can describe those emotional states in a compelling way without having to create them. Perspective is key because no can describe what they cannot acknowledge.
8. Learn to release the work.
This was by far the hardest lesson for me to learn. You will inevitably become too intimate with the work and trusted readers speed the writing process. Writers must entrust their work to other people to put books into production.
9. Never cheat your reader.
When you take shortcuts in the work, whether technical or emotional shortcuts, you alienate your readers and risk losing their trust. Do it enough times and they will stop reading your work.
10. A writer writes.
Talking about writing, dreaming about a writing life, filing papers, and sharpening pencils are never substitutes for writing. A writer makes her way to a completed page, draft, or manuscript one word at a time. Get started and enjoy the ride.