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25 Truths About the Work of Writing

image by Anthony Auston

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer whose latest post is scheduled to publish on Labor Day must, when considering topics, find herself muttering, “Well, shouldn’t I write something about work?”

And so, because there are many, many things to say about the work of writing, I put together a long list of short thoughts on the topic.

  1. Writing is the easiest work you’ll ever do, more joy than labor, a flurry of words pouring from your fingers onto the page so beautifully and smoothly you’re more witness than worker. Some days.
  2. On other days, it’s so hard and slow and yes, laborious, that you feel you must be doing it wrong because if it’s this hard how could anyone possibly force themselves to do it?
  3. You will be surprised one day, many months after you’ve written something and circled back to it, when you can’t tell the words you wrote in mood #1 from the words you wrote in mood #2.
  4. You will want to quit.
  5. You will almost certainly quit at least once.
  6. You will start again when it has become obvious to you that quitting isn’t working out.
  7. It’s work and it’s magic and it’s a mad alchemy.
  8. You’ll learn just as much from other people’s work as you do from your own.
  9. People who aren’t writers themselves probably will not understand what it’s like for you when the work is going poorly. They may sympathize, they may comfort you, and thank goodness for that, but still, they won’t truly understand.
  10. The work you do is yours in a primal and important way, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be better if you work with other people. You owe it to yourself to try.
  11. No work is ever wasted. Even if you delete thousands of words from a draft, you are a different and better writer because you wrote them.
  12. Effort doesn’t show. Never keep a scene or a character or even a book because you say to yourself, But I worked so hard on it. (See also #3 and #11.)
  13. “I worked so hard on it” also doesn’t get you an agent.
  14. Or a publisher.
  15. Or readers.
  16. Everyone works differently. You don’t have to write every day or write what you know or stick to any other particular process that happens to work for other people. Even if it works for a lot of other people. All that matters is whether it works for you.
  17. Like those writers who type out novels on their iPhones with one hand while commuting to their day jobs on the subway? Awesome. That’s fantastic. But it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a writer if you don’t work the way they do.
  18. And don’t judge other writers for how they work. It should go without saying, but alas, sometimes it has to be said.
  19. You don’t have to be producing words to be working. Thinking, observing, planning, all these are important parts of the writing process. It’s not all about word count.
  20. Work matters. Luck matters. Timing matters. Intangible, uncontrollable factors matter. That’s the writer’s lot.
  21. The moment at which you finish the work is the moment at which you are least qualified to evaluate whether it’s any good.
  22. How you feel about the work of writing will change over time because you change over time. Don’t be afraid to change your process or your goals. Something that worked for you 10 years ago may not work anymore. Explore.
  23. A writer at work tends to stay at work. Keep your characters on your mind every day and you’re more likely to find yourself back at the keyboard bringing them to life more often.
  24. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for wanting to get paid for your work. It is work, after all.
  25. If you’re lucky, one day a review will refer to your style of writing as “effortless,” and you will laugh and laugh and laugh.

What truths about the work of writing would you add to the list?


About Greer Macallister [1]

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister earned her MFA in creative writing from American University. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN'S LIE was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next pick, and a Target Book Club selection. Her novels GIRL IN DISGUISE (“a rip-roaring, fast-paced treat to read” - Booklist) and WOMAN 99 (“a nail biter that makes you want to stand up and cheer” - Kate Quinn) were inspired by pioneering 19th-century private detective Kate Warne and fearless journalist Nellie Bly, respectively. Her new book, THE ARCTIC FURY, was named an Indie Next and Library Reads pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a spotlighted new release at PopSugar, Libro.fm, and Goodreads. A regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books, she lives with her family in Washington, DC. www.greermacallister.com