I’ve shared tons of writing advice over the years, both in craft and lifestyle, and it’s always been a pleasure to pass along the things I’ve learned from others (or figured out the hard way). But I’ve done only one list of cohesive advice before, called “My Advice to My Newbie Writer Self: 20 Things I Wish I’d Known 7 Years Ago,” and now somehow that post itself is five years old? (Shh.)
I guess that’s why I feel the call to share again a list of things I’ve learned along the way—five years is a lot of experience to mine. So what do I mean by writers who are “in it,” and what do I mean by “advice”?
By “in it,” I mean deeply submerged in the journey of publication—not just starting out. (There is, of course, nothing wrong with being new to the game; that’s just not who I’m really talking to this time.) For you, that might look like ten years querying and still not finding an agent. It might mean you’re on your fifth book deal. Or it might mean you’ve chosen to self-publish, get into academia, or what have you. I’m really just referring to a level of commitment and longevity that means you’re no spring chicken when it comes to this crazy field we work in.
And by “advice,” I mean advice to myself, reminders to others, suggestions for anyone who ends up finding them helpful. I truly believe that no advice is universal, and I certainly don’t have any claim on being right or having figured everything out. These are just the realizations and philosophies that I’ve found most useful over the years. Please take them as you will. ♥ Let’s go!
No, not more. Not longer. Not faster. Harder. No one is tallying your total hours spent (probably), nor do you get any points for being a fast typist or a workaholic. What matters is that you do your best work as often as you can without burning out. When you’re mid-project, you need to be deep, deep in your high-effort zone every work day for a good chunk of time. It’s not about what other people are doing or can do; it’s about what you can do. Work hard, and you’ll feel good about it.
Yes, more. You should be embarrassed by how many rejections you get. They should outnumber your acceptances at least 10 to 1. Even if you’re deep in the game and have a name for yourself and get solicited to send in work. There are always more markets, and you can break them. (Or you can try, because how will you know if they’ll say yes if you don’t send something in?) So submit more, and don’t quit until everything you’re proud of has been placed somewhere. And then write more stuff.
Exploit Your Strengths
You’re probably really good at certain things, right? You might even be “known for” something—even if it’s just among your writing partners and peers. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve heard express a fear that they’re overusing that very strength they’re best at. Nope, not a problem. If you have a thing, run with it. Embrace it. Make it your trademark. It doesn’t mean you can’t branch out and try other things; I’m just saying there’s nothing to gain from avoiding the things you’re already great at.
Stop Avoiding Your Weaknesses
That said, it’s not great to turn your strength into a crutch. If you excel at one aspect of writing, by all means, use it, but don’t use it to cover up the things that you’re weak at. Instead, sniff out those soft spots and tackle them head-on. Avoidance gets us nowhere. Discover, acknowledge, and set to work improving. Will your weaknesses ever become your strengths? Maybe, maybe not, but at least they won’t be lurking in the background anymore, and you’ll become a better writer overall.
Learn How to Filter Feedback
Luckily I have a whole post on Writer Unboxed about “How to Process and Filter Feedback,” so if you missed that one be sure to go back and check it out! There are several main components here. First, you have to seek feedback. Every writer needs that. Then you have to learn how to open yourself to it instead of shutting it out. Then you have to learn when to trust your readers versus trusting your gut. And then you need to learn how to implement effective changes. No small task, but perhaps the most valuable thing you can do to improve your craft.
Think More Deeply
Look, I’m not saying all pantsers need to become plotters. I’m not saying you need a blueprint before you write your book. I’m just saying that well thought-out work is powerful. So is knowing what you want to say, even if you don’t know how to say it. Even if you’re a discover-as-you-go writer, thinking about what you want to discover is inherently valuable. Thinking is valuable. I’m not trying to sound condescending, but we often forget that. In a society that tells us we have to be proving concrete output to be productive, it’s easy to bypass that nothing-to-show-for-it part of the process where we stop and really think. Think hard. Think deep. Think for a long time, if you need to. It’s what ultimately makes work great. Thought. Don’t let the wordcount bogies convince you you don’t have time for it.
Stop Barreling Through
And on that note, my last lesson for today. Sometimes we need to “power through,” yes. There can be value in that technique, if used wisely. But for the love of all things literary, stop barreling through. You’re not a bulldozer; you’re a writer. Writing isn’t always a thing you can muscle. Willpower, maybe, but not the craft. If you don’t know what to do, doing any old thing probably isn’t going to solve it. Ignore the urge to keep going at all costs. If something is wrong, if you are burnt out, if a problem needs solving… fix it, rest, solve it. Don’t just pretend there’s no issue and assume it’ll be fine. Stop, acknowledge, and take time to address the issue (whether scene-specific of career-wide) in a smart and (yes) thoughtful way. Sometimes slow is faster in the end. Be smart, and do what you need, not what you think other people think you should do. You read me?
There you have it, my advice to writers who are in it. Is it complete? Not by a longshot, but it’s what’s on my mind at the moment. I hope some of it speaks to you today.
Writers who are in it, what have you learned along your journey? Which lessons have come the hardest, and which at the greatest benefit?
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