We’re happy to announce that longtime friend of the WU community, Julie Duffy, will join WU as a regular contributor! Julie hosts the StoryADay May and StoryADay September short story writing challenges on her website, StoryADay.org.
A Writer’s Manifesto
Imagine sitting down at your desk to write on a day when you’re just not feeling it.
You know you have to write this scene, or reach a certain word count, and it just feels like a grind. You light a candle, or sharpen your pencils, and begin to type, hoping to find that ‘flow’ eventually by dint of sheer will.
Now imagine sitting down at that same desk with those same goals.
You pick up a single sheet of paper and read it. Suddenly, you remember your purpose as a writer: why you wanted to do this, what you hope to achieve. You see the touchstones that shape and define your voice. You have a vision of your current project as one drop in the river that is your writing life, all of which is changing the world in a particular way. You remember what, at your best, you wanted that change to look like.
A little tingle of excitement begins to build. And you begin to type.
What was on that piece of paper?! And how can you get one?
MANIFESTO OR GOALS?
A few months ago, I realized my writing journey had become like a clifftop walk where I was only looking at my own two feet and completely missing the amazing view all around me.
I lifted my head up and decided it was time to look beyond the next goal, the next deadline, and create a manifesto for my whole writing life.
That manifesto has helped motivate, target, and unify all my writing efforts, from the articles I pitch to the individual scenes I write. I helps me get excited about where I’m going, but also about where I am.
I’d like to help you create your manifesto, too.
WHAT IS A WRITER’S MANIFESTO?
A writer’s manifesto is a highly personal document that,
- Is about your identity as a writer.
- Gives you a unified sense of what you want to achieve in all your writing.
- Transcends genres and projects.
- Is more motivating than individual goals.
In my work and my life I will be
Always looking for the HUMOR, even when it is dark.
SKEPTICAL, but not cynical.
FORGIVING of my work’s flaws.
PROLIFIC and POSITIVE and always producing the next thing.
Committed to the CRAFT (read lots, analyze and share, put into practice)
Committed to the COMMUNITY (past, present and future. Part of a lineage.)
UPLIFTING (this doesn’t mean Pollyanna-is. Remember my mentors.)
A BELIEVER that ART MATTERS.
I create worlds I want to live in, and inspire others to do the same (not just on the page).
Dated & Signed
Some of that won’t mean much to you, because it is so personal to me. In fact, it may make you cringe. Yours will likely look much different, and it should.
But looking that list, I remember the process of selecting each of those values and statements, and it takes me back to a moment when I was my best self. That’s what you should be aiming for, too.
HOW MY MANIFESTO HELPED ME WRITE A SINGLE SCENE
I had goals for my recent novel: I was to write a particular scene by the end of the week.
Only I couldn’t make myself do it.
My scene dealt with important issues and the mood of the piece kept skewing somber. I was depressing myself (and, I assume, my reader) and I kept stalling.
When I pulled out my manifesto the first three qualities were: ‘open-hearted’, ‘optimistic’, and ‘always looking for the humor’. My manifesto reminded me that, for me, art is a way to create the kind of world I want to live in. And that world is not somber.
No wonder I was stalling when I was trying to write a ‘serious’ scene. That realization gave me permission to write the scene in a much lighter way, which broke my block entirely.
For you, remembering your manifesto might give you permission to go deep, to make readers cry, or to scare the pants off them.
Or it might remind you that you have no patience for wasted time, so why are you trudging though this scene, trying to describe everything from the lighting to the drapes, instead of getting your character to the fight scene?
Likewise, when I pitch articles to magazines and blogs, or brainstorm podcast topics, my manifesto helps narrow down the topic areas and the tone each piece will take. It helps me focus on the work I love.
HOW TO CREATE YOUR MANIFESTO
- Make a list of your current favorite writers, artists, creative people , and note what you admire about them. (In my case I wrote: Amanda Palmer, for her commitment to making the art only she can make and finding ways to get paid for it, for her commitment to openness…Mary Robinette Kowal for her pursuit of the craft of writing and storytelling, for her willingness to share, and for her ability to keep turning out stories and books, building her audience; Nick Stephenson for his calculated open-heartedness; Kim Stanley Robinson for his unique style and optimism; Neil Gaiman for the same things, and for the literary family tree he grew out of; Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams for their quirky style, humor, big ideas, and the fact that what they offer I can only get from them).
- Make a list of the commonalities; the things your artistic godparents share. I quickly realized that ‘optimism’,’ humor’ and ‘open-heartedness’ belonged on my list, along with a commitment to the craft and to turning out work. I also saw a strong sense that art matters, that creative works can change the world, something I realized I believed too.
- Write: In My Work I Will Be…and then note down all the qualities that resonated most deeply with you. (I hand-wrote my manifesto, randomly capitalizing words that I wanted to stand out, and put it on my desk. You could be more or less artistic. Frame it, or simply jot it down on a post-it or in your phone. Whatever works to keep it on hand.
- Sign and Date Your Manifesto. This is your commitment to yourself that you are serious about creating a particular kind of writing life. The date is important too. You may find it useful to update your manifesto as you learn and grow and change. Some of the items will remain the same, but others may change.
- Use It. Whenever you sit down to write a new work, pitch a new idea, or continue a piece you’ve been working on, take a quick look at your manifesto. Remind yourself of what you’re trying to achieve, not just today, but in your writing life.
Since writing my manifesto, I have a feeling of comfort and confidence that I never had before. I may not know exactly what I’m going to write today, but I know how I’m going to write.
I’m no longer faced with the paralyzing tyranny of freedom: I am not free to write cynical, mean or perfect drafts. I’m no longer free to imagine I can be unique, but instead must acknowledge my literary lineage. Whatever I write today—from this blog post, to a scene in my novel, to the podcast I plan to record this afternoon—I have a roadmap for it. I know what I’m trying to achieve and the kind of mark I want my work to leave on the parts of the world it touches.
When you find yourself struggling, ask yourself how you want to be writing. Not what characters or stories or subjects you’ll tackle or how you’ll make this scene perfect, but what you want to achieve with your writing. Pick up your manifesto and ask how you can make today’s writing align with your values.
If you can do that, you’ll stay true to your own voice, and you’ll create a vibrant, coherent body of work that touches the world in a way unique to you.
Who would you list as your artistic ‘godparents’ and what do they have in common? Did you notice that, before now? Are you more motivated by outward goals (e.g. “Publish a novel!”, “Hit the best-seller list!”) or by this kind of internal identity (‘I am a writer’, ‘My work makes people feel…’) or something else? Do you already have a statement you live by, as a writer?