I’m still celebrating my 10-year blogging anniversary because honestly, I’m super proud to have stuck with something this long. So I’ve decided to pull together a list of what I hope are the best pieces of writing advice I’ve given over the past decade. I hope these nuggets can serve as reminders and much-needed encouragement for you today.
1. Stop worrying about whether or not your ideas are dumb.
There are great ideas and terrible ideas. But you can’t distinguish which idea falls under which category until you give it a chance and see what happens. “This is probably a dumb idea” is a phrase you should only use to describe your own writing when you’ve already started writing or working on a thing. If it does turn out to be a dumb idea and it fizzles out, fine. But you never know: It might actually be the best idea you’ve ever had.
2. Get really good at writing things when you know it’s not your best writing.
A lot of aspiring writers get hung up on this idea that they can’t write or keep anything that’s not their “best” writing. They can’t write when they’re slightly tired because it won’t be great. They can’t write on the train on their morning or evening commute because they won’t be able to concentrate deeply enough. My philosophy has always been to write and accept the results as they are, whether it’s your best writing or your worst. Sometimes, all you need to worry about right now is getting the words down on paper. There is always time to go back and rewrite later.
3. Don’t take things personally.
People will disagree with you. They will try to tear you down for no reason. They will tell you and others that your blog is awful, your book is terrible, your stories are trash and you shouldn’t be a writer. They’ll do anything to try to make themselves feel better by being Garbage Humans. Don’t waste your energy on their venom. And don’t you dare let them convince you to stop writing. They have zero power over you or your choices.
4. Don’t spend all your time planning.
While there’s nothing wrong with planning ahead or figuring out a long-term strategy to make something work, many people fall into the trap of “planning without executing.” They spend all their energy and time on making plans and end up having nothing left by the time they actually sit down to write something. Do a little bit of planning along the way, but above all else, make sure you’re actually writing. That’s how you get results.
5. The Honeymoon Phase will wear off sooner than you think.
The moment a new idea hits, we’re instantly filled with motivation and excitement. But it’s very easy to waste that excitement talking about and planning out an idea. You have to capitalize on that hot-burning fire while it’s scalding and get some actual writing done. Because before you know it, that initial excitement is going to wear off. And if you haven’t started writing by then, it’s going to be a lot harder to keep going.
6. Break big ambitions into small goals.
So you want to write a book, huh? I’m just using this as an example, there are plenty of other big ambitions to have as a writer. But you can’t just sit down today and write an entire book by tomorrow, right? It could take months, even years. And you’re much more likely to give up before even getting halfway through if “write a book” is the only goal you set. How about starting with 50,000 words broken up into 500 words a day? A chapter? A page? Start small and work your way up to something bigger.
7. Get discouraged, but get up.
I’ve come to believe it’s healthy to go through periods where you feel down and unsure of where you’re headed as a writer. These are the moments you really have to draw from your raw passion and love for your craft to keep you going. It never hurts to question where you’re going, as long as you keep doing little things here and there to get there one step at a time. Go ahead — let yourself feel like you can’t do it. Then get up and go do it anyway.
8. The only way to get better at writing is to keep writing.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain that they don’t feel they’re good at writing, so they never really get around to writing anything. That’s not really how writing works. It’s a skill no one is born having mastered. In order to get better at it, you actually have to sit down and do it. When people ask me how to improve their writing, they don’t always like my simple answer: Write. But on the surface, it really is that simple. I’ve taken some writing classes and have a minor in creative writing, but most of my “education” as a writer has come from spending so much time at my computer writing. I put in the work, and I get the results. You can, too.
9. And the only way to fail is to stop.
I’m very cautious about the world “failure.” I think a lot of people use it to tear themselves down when they’re struggling to complete a task or make a positive change in their life. “I didn’t write today, so I failed.” No, not really — you just didn’t write today, and tomorrow hasn’t started yet. The only way to truly fail is to never try at all, or to just stop doing something because it’s hard or time-consuming or you don’t feel like doing it. Trying something and not succeeding isn’t failure in the sense that you didn’t do your best. It just means you missed the mark somehow and you can probably try again.
10. Rejection, criticism, and bad days happen. Keep writing anyway.
I could develop an entire course or write a whole book on how to handle negative or unwanted writing feedback. Because the truth is, many of us don’t know how to deal with being told no or hearing someone say our writing isn’t good. Not everyone grows up being taught that they can’t always have what they want when they want it. So a lot of people have to train their brains to take “no” in a more positive light, instead of crumbling into a pile of misery every time they get a rejection e-mail. In short, the best way to combat “no” is to keep writing until you get a “yes.”
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.