There is no such thing as great writing, only good editing.
A story is never truly finished. The author simply decided to stop working on it.
Show, don’t tell.
The first draft is a stinker, period.
A writer cannot wait for the muse to show up before they do their work. A writer grows out of habit and practice.
Read everything and learn from others.
The foremost writers who have influenced me as a creative: Sylvia Plath, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Dorothy Parker, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling. I realized later that I forgot to add another important book to the pile: Trumpet by Jackie Kay.
You may or may not have heard these phrases in one shape another. If you enjoy writing, you will most likely hear it sooner or later. They’re some of the most helpful writing tips I’ve ever received and I do my best to remember them whenever I feel like the worst writer in the universe. In my last blog entry I talked about finding my voice, but I later thought that I told the beginning of my writing days in a chaotic manner and I needed to dive into specifics. I want to help you along if you’re still figuring out how to write your way, at your pace and how to ride your own journey. There are four things you must know and understand.
1. There is only one You, sport.
One thing I want to empathize once again (i.e. last entry) is that you should pay no attention to other people’s success stories. They’re interesting, I’m sure, but they have nothing to do with you. Comparison is the thief of joy… and productivity as well! About a month ago, I was really blue because I was doing precisely that, comparing myself to others. My dad said exactly what I needed to hear so I could see myself in a different and more optimistic light. “Do you want to be someone else?” he asked. “No,” I said. “Then stop comparing yourself to others. You are you. You have your own life to live,” he said as if it was the simplest, most obvious thing in the world. Now that I think about it, it truly is.
You should check out this Twitter thread where Leigh Bardugo talks about going to signings at bookstores and they didn’t even have her books in stock. Being published doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. It’s a good example when it comes to untold success stories.
2. Success isn’t a straight arrow and it may glitter, but it’s not always gold.
Let’s talk about the misconception that getting a book published will instantly make you famous and rich. As you work on your book, do not expect to find a pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow. Do not write for money and fame. Partially because it may influence your work in a bad way. Partially because very few get that lucky. There are many writers out there who have a second job in addition to writing. Many great writers don’t get famous. However, they might have a strong and faithful fan base. Fame has nothing to do with skill; it’s about the publisher, the marketing and the distribution in bookstores and other retailers. Look at James Patterson. He just pretends to be a writer. Not to mention that the percentage of millionaire authors is really low. Someone once told me it’s 5%, but I have yet to confirm that. It’s frickin’ low. That’s for sure.
You should check out the thread about misconceptions about publishing. It’s hilarious.
3. Be the Champion of Your Stories.
It’s a weird balance, being confident in your abilities and also being prepared to admit you’re wrong and sometimes that you don’t know anything.
I took three creative writing classes during my undergrad at Central Michigan University and I’m glad I did, because I received a good deal of flogging. That’s where I learned to listen, take in people’s thoughts and gradually sort out which suggestions to use for the story in question or possibly future stories. You should always be open to improving as writer and you also must accept the fact that you can’t please everyone. Your work won’t sit well with some people. That’s when you have to stick to your guns. I learned that when I wrote a short story which one of my classmates called “distasteful.” (Long story. Let me know in the comments if you wanna hear about it.)
Well, you’re never left wanting of criticism and advice. Everyone loves to tell you how to write. Including people who don’t write themselves. There are tons of books, articles and blogs handing out advice, how-to-dos, 5-Steps-to-Success bullshit and so forth. You have fellow writers, editors, teachers, loved ones, beta readers and random people giving you opinions about your work. Some of it will be helpful, some of it just mean, some of it may feel justified but doesn’t align with you, some of it will help you grow, some of it will warm your heart.
4. People Like You
I will talk about the writing community at length in another entry, because this is already quite long, but let it be known that there are plenty of other writers out there ready to be your friend, to support you, to listen to you, to look at your work and to buy your books. We don’t even have to write in the same genre. It’s a rough business, sharing your work, and of course, sometimes it’s hard just to tell that story to yourself. We writers must stick together and help each other in any way we can.
To quote the mantra by true crime journalist Michelle McNamara, “It’s chaos. Be kind.”