I’ve been writing since I was a kid. (That’s a very long time. I’m old, y’all). Being a published writer has always been my dream. I can’t, in fact, remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. The difference between that little girl all those years ago and the woman writing this post, comes down to a matter of effort. That little girl was very, very lazy. She was a procrastinator and spent much of her life wishing for things to happen. Now as a somewhat grown up, I know that wishing for things, wanting things to happen won’t get you anything but a bit older and a lot more frustrated.
I’ve learned a lot during my writing tenure and much of what I’ve learned are things that I had to sort out for myself. I’ve made mistakes, but that’s the beauty in growth—we are meant to fail so that we can one day thrive. Still, if I were a beginning writer, I’d seek out a few practical rules, guidelines, if you will, on what I should remember as I move forward in my career. Here are just a few that I think are invaluable:
1. The cardinal rule for any writer is simply this: The story comes first. That means that platforms, marketing, blog tours, who you can get to blurb you; none of that matters if you have not first written the absolutely best story you can manage. Publishing is changing immensely. I think I read somewhere recently that there are thousands of self-published books being released every single day. So what will separate you from those thousands? It’s the story. The story is your calling card. It is more important than your book cover, than your blurb, than how many Twitter followers you have. After all, even if your followers reach into the millions and your BFFs are NYT best sellers who are happy to pimp your book, if your story is sub-par, you will get slammed. Readers want to be entertained. They want to be transported. That will not happen if you do not put everything you are into your story. The story, my friends, must, must, must always come first.
2. If you do not read, you cannot write. I know, I know. Some of you will argue with this, but I have discovered that there is a certainty to this logic. If you want to write a certain genre and have not read in it, how will you know what readers are looking for? More to the point, if you claim you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time to write. They go hand in hand. You must read to broaden your skill set. From reading, (well written books), we see what to and not to do. Books are the incubators of the creative mind. Get yours in that warm little box.
3. “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” ― Red Smith
I never really understood what that quote meant until earlier this year. I have published short stories in anthologies. I have been in many wonderful critique groups and have been able to study under some truly great writers. But until February of 2013, I discovered I was not a writer. Not really. I knew how to form a plot, how to arch it, how to write compelling characters, but it wasn’t until my father died quite suddenly that I truly understood what it is to bleed on the page. Writing is about emotion. It is meant to hold a mirror up to life and show the world all of its scrapes and bruises. If we are writing about the human condition, then we must write about all aspects of it. While my dad lay in his hospital bed, being eaten alive by the aggressive cancer that stole him from us, I sat next to him, notebook in hand and wrote. I wrote about my fears. I wrote about the unknown. I wrote about what a terrible daughter I’d been. I wrote about the shadow my dad had become. It was the most honest thing I’d ever written. My dad died and from his death, a true writer was born.
Unless you are willing to open those veins, to shine that mirror onto yourself, then you have no business writing. You must be willing to write with no inhibitions, with no concern of what others may think of you. Writing is like walking into a crowded room completely naked. You better be great with how you look, with the scathing expressions on the crowds’ faces and you damn well better hold your head up high while you’re strutting in that room naked. Be your most honest self when you write. Otherwise, don’t bother.
4. You are your only competition. You write in a certain genre, we all do. Maybe you write in a popular genre. Maybe you’re frustrated because you aren’t selling like you want. Maybe you’re jealous that NYT author X is yet again beating you. You know what? Who cares? You aren’t in competition, you’re in a community. We are all lovers of books and as a writer, a true to the bone writer, you shouldn’t focus on how someone else is selling or what they’re doing in their work. You should be considering your own path, your own trajectory. The point to all of this is to improve, to make certain that every story you write is better than the last. You want to grow, to thrive. After that comes accomplishment. So don’t worry who is out selling you or who you’re out selling. Get off the internet and write better than you did yesterday.
5. There is NO such thing as writer’s block. Let me repeat that: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITER’S BLOCK. It’s a myth fabricated by procrastinators. Oh, I’m not pointing fingers. I used to claim I had the block all the time. But what I realized is that it was my inability to step away from social media, from whatever “must binge” show I was absorbed with that was truly “blocking” me.
If you have tried everything— stepped away from your manuscript, turned off your TV, disconnected your internet and you still are blankly staring at that evil flashing cursor…then try something new. Maybe one of these:
• Write a letter from one of your characters to you: “What you don’t know about me but should.”
• Pick up a dictionary and randomly select 10 words. Put these words together in a story.
• Write a compelling title and then jot down how you can come up with a plot to match that title.
• Read a really great book.
Writer’s block was created, I think, by folks who couldn’t explain what to do next. It is a cop out and shouldn’t be among your long list of excuses why you haven’t written today. Writing is work. It’s very, very hard work. You have to put in the time and the only real cure for this imaginary “block” is to sit your butt in the chair and write. Start slow. One word after another until, voila, you have a story.The sooner you know the above and commit them to memory, the easier the transition from hobbyist to writer will be. It is not an easy gig. Don’t let anyone tell you it is, but at the end of the day, if you’re truly passionate about the craft, then the work will be secondary to the thrill of hearing someone tell you “I loved your story.”
Thanks for reading and supporting me in my little endeavor. Now. What are you still doing here? Get off the internet and go write!