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18 Writing Lessons to Carry Into 2018

For the past 6 years on my blog, I’ve been writing an end-of-the-year list of life lessons learned. It occurred to me as I wrote 17 Things I Learned in 2017 [1] that so often, many of my “life” lessons end up being writing lessons, and vice-versa. And then it occurred to me that these aren’t just lessons to look back on, but to carry forward. So whether you’re embarking on a new writing project this year, tackling an old one, or simply trying to find direction along this journey, here are 18 bits of advice for 2018.

    1. I think I may have seen this on Instagram, but it rang so true I’ve written it on my planner: “Progress, not perfection.”
    2. When you think of your audience, don’t think about who’ll buy your book. Think of who will read it as if it’s the greatest gift.
    3. During a poetry reading by Ocean Vuong [2], someone asked him where the violence in his poetry comes from. He calmly answered, “It’s in me. It’s in you.” Whatever we’re writing about, we cannot expect to fully examine in it unless we’re willing to look inward. If we’re only looking outward, we are taking the role of spectator, not writer.
    4. From ire’ne lara silva [3], on writing younger characters and struggling with backstory, with how to weave in history: “Young people don’t have history. They discover it.”
    5. From Achy Obejas [4], during Las Dos Brujas Writers’ Workshops: “Don’t write happiness, write the promise of it.”
    6. Also from Achy Obejas, “Failure is when character is revealed.”
    7. From Cristina García (also during Las Dos Brujas Writers’ Workshops, where I clearly learned so much!), “Texture and specificity in every detail allow us to enter a story. The generic keeps its distance; the specific invites you in.”
    8. Also from Cristina García, “Let pleasure and obsessions be your guides to what you write. Be daring, write the stories no one can write but you. Writing should be a constant festivity of questioning.”
    9. Do not fear flaws. In fact, dive into them. A character’s greatest flaw holds the key to what will be their downfall, what will be the decision or action or mistake that unravels them (and thus, your plot).
    10. While teaching a class on finding the heart of your story, I discovered the heart has much to show us about writing: When you’re looking at the big picture, look closer. When you’re looking close, step back. Do this over and over—expand, and contract, like a heart.
    11. From Matthew Salesses, on revision [5]: “Cut the opening paragraph. Cut the last paragraph. Do that for each scene. Now rewrite the ones that have to be there, let the rest die.”
    12. From Daniel José Older, on deep listening and understanding your position in the realm of power [6], “Power always has to be a part of your thought process…not just your opinion, but where you are placed? What power do you have, what power don’t you have?”
    13. I wish I knew where I heard this. It is on a note in my phone, attributed to someone named Charlie: “Art is not getting what you want. Art is getting what art decides to give you.”
    14. From Lance Rubin [7], “Look, we’re all figuring it out. Every book, every creative endeavor, is a new challenge, a new education, so be open to the process, open to failing, but also stay focused and stay organized and be kind to yourself.”
    15. Worth repeating: be kind to yourself.
    16. But also, be honest. One of the hardest but most important things to learn is the difference between needing to step away from the page and avoiding it out of fear.
    17. If this post has not made it clear: listen and learn from others. We can never have too many teachers.
    18. A quote from my new day planner, which is just perfect: “And suddenly you know it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”

What are some lessons or pieces of advice you’re carrying with you into 2018?

About Natalia Sylvester [8]

Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester [9] came to the U.S. at age four. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas and is a faculty member of the low-res MFA program at Regis University. Her articles have appeared in Latina Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and NBCLatino.com. She is the author of Chasing the Sun, named the Best Debut Book of 2014 by Latinidad and chosen as a Book of the Month by the National Latino Book Club. Her second novel, Everyone Knows You Go Home, is forthcoming from Little A in 2018.