Writing may be your passion. It is certainly mine. It can, however, take you on a roller coaster of emotions. It can bring up emotions we aren’t necessarily prepared to deal with. It can be mentally exhausting. By the end of a really great writing day, my brain is, simply put, tired.
Add to that moments of doubt. Those doubts may manifest through questioning our ability, maybe our talent, and sometimes even wondering whether or not we should be devoting this much time to something so unsure…something that may not make us any money in the end.
We tend to work alone, which can be isolating. So much of the time, we live in our heads, creating characters and conflict and entire worlds there, all to the exclusion of living in the real world.
Regular people don’t really understand what that’s like. Only fellow writers tend to really ‘get’ what other writers go through.
Below is my Top Ten List for writers.
1. First and foremost, call yourself a writer!
But wait! “Can you I do that?” you might ask. The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
Being a writer is not the same thing as being published. Plain and simple, it means you write. So go ahead and proclaim it—if not to the world—at least to yourself. Say it: “I am a writer.”
2. Be a reader of great books.
Reading [great books] is one of the most important things you can do to grow your craft. Pay attention to how writers you love and respect put words together, how they craft sentences…paragraphs…scenes…chapters. Examine how they go about creating characters with depth. Be a forensic reader, then take the knowledge you gain and apply it to your own writing.
3. Embrace the fact that you are on an ever-present path of growth. Any writer will tell you that they are always honing their craft. No matter how good you are, there is always room to refine what you do and how you do it. This can come from reading (see #2), from new vocabulary, which can help bring greater meaning to your words, and certainly from practice.
There may be people who are born with innate writing talent in the same way there are people who are born athletes or born thespians. But there are far more people who work to learn and improve through practice and research and simply DOING.
4. Refill the well. You can’t live on water alone. Similarly, you can’t live completely in your head and at your computer. You may feel that you don’t have time to devote to anything other than your day job, family, and your writing life. I’ve been there, believe me. There was a period of time when every single available minute was devoted to my writing. The result was that I got burnt out, and pretty quickly.
Take it from me, you need other things in your life. I’m here to encourage you to step away from your writing once in a while. Do other things. Pursue other interests and hobbies. At the very least, give your brain a chance to turn off and yourself a chance to recharge by going for a walk, reading, watching a movie, cooking a healthy dinner, do some art (I do art journaling!), or whatever else will refill your well.
5. Conversely, maybe you need to carve out time to write. Just because it’s a passion doesn’t mean you have given yourself permission to go there on a regular basis.
You need to nurture your passion, without guilt…without giving in to doubt…without setting up barriers.
6. Find like-minded people. This is such an important component for your mental health. Humans are social…even introverts. The absolute amazement I felt when I attended my first writing meeting (I joined Romance Writers of America even though I didn’t write romance. As an organization, they offer so many resources). I met people who loved writing as much as I did. They understood me!
Now I belong to both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Find an organization so you can find your people.
7. If you’re new to writing, find a critique group (another benefit of joining a writing organization). I found my group pretty quickly after I first joined RWA. We met monthly for years, and I’m still close with several of them. They will always be my people. We learned how to be writers together. We supported each other. We grew up together.
When you read the acknowledgments in so many books, the author thanks their critique partners. That alone shows you just how important a supportive group like that can be in your writing life.
8. Don’t listen to what others think or say. I’m not talking about your critique group here. I’m talking about the naysayers. Those people who point out all the reasons why you shouldn’t be a writer.
Don’t listen to people who blithely say it’s nothing more than a hobby.
I was a teacher. A mom of five. A wife. A daughter.
I also wanted to write.
I DID write.
I didn’t listen to anyone who said anything that might take the wind from my sails.
You simply cannot care what other people think of your dream.
9. That leads straight into the next tip, which is to simply focus on bringing your stories to life. There are people out there who are just waiting for what you write. All you have to do is produce it and get it out there for them.
10. Write the story of your heart. It’s easy to fall into the destructive thought-process of writing what is ‘hot’ right now, rather than what you want to write.
Fight the urge. If something is hot right now, by the time you finish writing your story, the trend may very well be over.
So…forget about writing to the market. Write the book of your heart.
Let me tell you a story. I wrote my first book and LOVED it. I submitted to agents and ultimately, I got two offers of representation. One was from an agent in her own boutique agency who absolutely loved my book and character. The other was from a big time agent in a huge organization.
I listened to some of the people around me at the time, most of whom advised that I go with the smaller fish in the big pond rather than the big fish in the small pond. People thought I’d be crazy to turn down the offer from Trident Media Group.
I went with the agent there, and she immediately launched into all the reasons why she wanted me to up the romance in my caper mystery series, and downplay the mystery.
Against my better judgement, I did it. Long story short, more than a year later, she pulled the plug on the project, saying that she didn’t really rep mysteries and it still wasn’t romance-y enough.
I ended up going with her assistant, who was leaving Trident to go out on her own. We took it back to the original version, which she loved, and she sold it within three months. She is still my agent today.
The moral of the story is to be true to your voice and your story. Write what YOU want, not what somebody else does.