You Don’t Have to Give Up Things You Enjoy to Be Successful

Success does not require misery.


Have you ever thought about the reasons aspiring writers quit? Writing is challenging, of course, and many people aren’t prepared for that level of difficulty. But there’s another reason so many people who desperately want to write for a living never make it that far.

Writing makes a lot of people miserable.

Not because they don’t enjoy writing, but because someone at some point has told them that if they want to be a writer, they aren’t allowed to do anything else.

Adding this to the list of garbage writing advice you should never, ever follow. Ever.

So many people think you have to give up everything you enjoy — or that you can never even try to find balance — in order to succeed in writing. Or in any profession, really. Video games? No time! Netflix? Forget it! Reading for fun? Who even does that?

I can’t have a family, I’m a writer! I can’t have a house or start a garden or go to the farmers market on weekends, I’m a writer!

Who told you that? And why the heck did you believe them??

Success does not require that you are miserable. What would be the point? Would publishing a dozen books, working full-time as a blogger, or whatever it is success looks like to you really be worth it if you were unhappy and still felt unfulfilled?

Humans are not built to work all the time. “Successful” people who claim you can only make it in the world by sacrificing family and friends and your health are sending the wrong message, and it’s not fair that they get to use their influence to tell aspiring creatives and other wannabe professionals that they have to work themselves into the ground to make good things happen. It’s not realistic, and it’s not helping anyone.

Do you have to work hard as a writer to succeed in this industry? Of course you do.

Do you have to make sacrifices along the way to keep your focus on writing? Absolutely. Sometimes, you’re going to have to cancel plans, give up the one morning you have per week to sleep in, or miss the series finale of your all-time favorite show. This does not mean plans cannot be rescheduled, another morning can’t be slept through, or you can’t record the episode and watch it later.

You don’t have to stop making plans altogether, or settle for less than six hours of sleep every night, or stop watching TV completely. There is such a thing as less, and in the long-term, saying yes to less is probably more effective than trying to say no to everything all the time.

Say you’re maybe sort of most definitely hooked on Netflix — so much so that you often choose to binge-watch half of a season of a show at a time instead of working on your long-forgotten novel. Your first instinct might be to stop watching Netflix altogether. After all, if streaming commercial-free TV shows and movies is stopping you from writing, isn’t it best to just cut yourself off completely?

It might be an effective strategy … at first. For the first few days of saying no to Netflix, you barely even think about it. You don’t even really miss it. It’s just entertainment! You don’t need that!

But then on Friday, a highly-anticipated original series drops on the platform, and EVERYONE is talking about it. You look at the writing you’ve done this week and notice you’ve made good progress, at least compared to previous weeks. Not watching Netflix was the best idea you’ve ever had. You should keep it up!

Now it’s Saturday, though, and you’re itching to start watching that new show. You do the best to focus on your writing, but you can’t stop thinking about it. You want so desperately to honor your No-Netflix commitment so that you won’t stop writing. You can’t give in!

You make it until the next morning, and finally cave. And instead of writing, you spend the entire day plowing through the series so you can talk to your co-workers about it Monday morning.

Having broken the cycle, you shrug your shoulders and return to your previous routine of watching Netflix instead of writing. It was nice while it lasted, huh?

This “all or nothing” mentality is not effective, and it’s going to make your head spin. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t write and also watch Netflix. You don’t have to cut out the fun to make room for the work. You have to do the work first and use whatever time is left in your day to indulge in your pleasures.

For you, this might mean getting home from work, writing for an hour, eating dinner, and lounging on the couch in front of the TV for the rest of the evening. It might mean saving all your TV time for the weekends and focusing on your writing during the week — a different but still potentially effective way to fit both things into your life.

There is no right or wrong way to do it. Identifying the problem — too much Netflix — is a good start. But you don’t have to jump straight into deprivation. You’re going to face the temptation to spend an entire day watching TV no matter what. But what’s going to put your mind in balance: Only writing and never enjoying someone else’s story, or getting your writing done and then indulging in a few episodes before bed?

Finding balance is one of the hardest things creatives have to learn, and many never master it. I sure haven’t. There are weeks I get less writing done but read my way through several of the books on my shelf. There are weeks I read absolutely nothing but make a ton of writing progress.

If you enjoy watching Netflix, then you should continue to allow yourself that enjoyment. Say yes to less. Work hard, but have fun. Spend time with the people in your head, but also the people in your life. Write a lot, but also sleep and eat decent meals and exercise every now and then. The more fulfilled your real life is, the better you’re able to serve the fictional lives you’re in charge of.

Take care of yourself, and embrace the things that bring you joy. Just don’t forget to write, and to find as much enjoyment in that work as you can. It really does make all the difference.

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

What Is a ‘Flow State’ and How Will It Help You Write More, Faster?

This could change your writing life for the better.

It was early on a Saturday morning. The dog had woken me up an hour or so earlier, and even though she had just fallen back asleep for a quick early morning nap, I was still awake. I decided to grab a cup of coffee and start my day off slow — the best way to kick off a weekend, in my opinion.

Coffee at my side, I decided to open my blog and decide what I was going to write about later. The next thing I knew, the coffee was gone, a little over an hour had passed, and I had written two blog posts, neither of which I had planned on completing until that afternoon.

Had time fast-forwarded itself without my permission? Technically, no. But that’s what it felt like to me. Because once I sat down at my desk and let my brain do a little thinking, I had unintentionally entered an often neglected creative “zone” in which everything except those blog posts ceased to exist.

This is something psychologists call a “flow state.” It’s the sort of trance you enter while giving a speech, playing a championship game, or writing a blog post. Nothing else matters. Only the task in front of you. And most people, whether they intend to or not, perform better in this state than they do when they aren’t in it.

Entering into a flow state means that you are completely immersed in whatever project or activity you are actively engaged in. Getting sucked in to a YouTube video doesn’t technically count because you’re not actually doing anything. Spending two straight hours working on your novel without realizing much time has passed does count, though, because you’re completing an action without interruption.

For me personally, being in this state of mind when I’m writing pretty much transports me to a place where time does not exist. I become completely unaware of who I am, where I am, and what’s going on around me. I don’t hear anything, I barely even move. The only thing my mind is able to focus on are the words I am taking from my head and transferring onto “paper.” It usually takes a noise, an alarm, or finishing whatever I’m working on to pull me out of flow.

The best thing about being completely engaged and focused on something like this is that I’ve noticed I’m not only able to write better during that time, but I’m also somehow able to write more.

An hour of unfocused, forced writing time is a lot different than an hour of completely interrupted writing time. I basically don’t stop writing for the entire duration of the session. I don’t look at my phone, I don’t click over to other tabs to check my email or social channels. I stay completely immersed in my book or blog post or whatever it is I happen to be working on at the time, and the writing just gets done.

In general, most writers struggle to get their work done because they never focus completely on the task in front of them. They’re either always trying to do 50 things at once or they don’t think there is room in their life for an uninterrupted writing session.

These are problems that have solutions. The process of entering into a state of flow can act as one of those solutions, as long as a writer puts in the steps necessary to do so.

How do you enter a flow state if you want to write more in less time? It’s not as complicated as you think — if you’re willing to make the effort to make it happen.

  • Pick a time and place where you won’t be interrupted. This means finding a spot in your schedule where you can be completely alone in a room with your words without the chance (or less of a chance) that your dog, spouse, or children will disrupt your flow. For me, 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning in my home office is apparently the best time and place. I’ll keep that in mind for next time.
  • Get comfortable. I don’t mean snuggle up with a pillow and blanket — creating ideal napping conditions won’t help you get any writing done and you know it. I just mean you should make sure you don’t have any reasons to get up. Have a snack or something to drink nearby. Put on comfy slippers or find a blanket (but not too much snuggling!). Pee before you sit down. No discomfort, fewer reasons you’ll be able to justify getting up in the middle of your writing session.
  • Eliminate all distractions. Close out any unnecessary tabs or temporarily disable your Wi-Fi or the internet if you have to. Turn off your phone or, at the very least, leave it facedown just out of your reach. If music or a podcast will distract you, leave it off. If these things will help you stay focused, turn them on.
  • Just start writing. Don’t think too hard about what you’re about to dive into or the perfect way to execute the story. Just start making words. A lot of people think just jumping in without thinking through where you’re going is a waste of time, but think of it like this: Would you rather spend 15 minutes of your writing time trying to plan out where the story will go, only to abandon that plan 15 minutes into actually writing for something different? Or could you just save 15 minutes or more by letting the story take you where it wants you to go without worrying about getting it “right”? If the objective is to get more done, there’s very little room for unnecessary planning. Just start writing.

The deeper you get into your writing session, the easier it will be to enter a flow state. It happens seamlessly, and you may not even realize you’re in it until it’s over. This is not a bad thing. You don’t want to be thinking about being in a flow state while you’re trying to get your work done. You want to focus completely on that work without distracting yourself with other thoughts.

It’s not an easy thing to achieve for everyone. Most people have not been taught or have never taken the time to learn how to create the ideal environment for this kind of deep creative focus. That’s okay — no judgment here. But I do hope these suggestions help. And if there’s anything else standing in your way of Making Writing Happen that I haven’t mentioned here, don’t hesitate to let me know. I want to help. Will you let me?

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

12 Simple Changes That Will Make You a Better Writer Almost Instantly

Change your attitude and other good things will follow.

1. Don’t write like someone you admire. Write like you.

2. Two words: Nope Days.

3. Write as if no one’s ever going to read it. Let go. Go offroad. Be wild.

4. Stop saying, “I’m not good enough” if it’s going to interfere with your writing. Get good by writing.

5. Write about things that interest you, even if you don’t think they’re “trendy.”

6. Stop “writing what you know” and start writing about what you want to know more about.

7. If your big writing goals seem too hard or too far away, focus on something smaller. Like writing 2,000 words this weekend.

8. Every now and then, get back to basics. Write a simple, predictable story. Then go back and twist it around untilit’s something surprising.

9. Open yourself up to more stories, whether it’s through books, films, or in interacting with other people.

10. Stop trying to go from zero to bestselling author in 60 seconds or less. Take your time. Also, breathe.

11. Treat rejection as a challenge to do better next time.

12. Write when you are discouraged. Remind yourself that you’re doing what you love, and hard work will get you to where you want to go.

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

Interruptions Are Inevitable. Don’t Let Them Knock You Down.

Tired of writing interruptions? Here’s how to deal.

About a year ago, I brought home a husky puppy. My life changed in many ways after that, and I am more than grateful for the vast majority of them. (You know what’s not fun? Picking up dog poop in the rain without an umbrella while the very strong dog is trying to run after a passing car because she hasn’t learned the sit command yet and also CARS.)

One thing I didn’t really think through before bringing Izzie home was how much her almost constant presence throughout my days would impact my writing life.

Before #DogMomLife, I could write whenever I wanted to. I had almost total freedom over my time. That changed very quickly, and at first, it put an almost complete stop to my writing.

That obviously did not last. And that’s a good thing.

The strangest thing about this drastic change in my life is that it actually taught me how to make better use of my time. Puppy naps would be the perfect time to watch a few episodes of my favorite TV show or read 25 more pages of my current book. But it turns out these are things I can very easily do while said puppy is awake and sitting on me (she likes the sits). Do you know what doesn’t happen when she’s sitting on me? Writing.

So guess when writing happens most often now? When she’s napping. And I guess this strategy is working out just fine, since I’m almost done writing my book, I haven’t let this blog go silent out of frustration, and I’m making excellent progress on my writing goals.

This doesn’t mean that I’m never in the middle of writing something when my dog decides she needs immediate post-nap pets. (These are, I have learned, essential tummy pets that must happen after the naps in order to achieve full awakeness.) Usually, I have to stop in the middle of a sentence when I am summoned, because otherwise she stands on her back legs, puts her front paws on my keyboard, and tries making her own words until I intervene.

Dogs don’t word very well. They don’t have useful thumbs. It’s very challenging.

Izzie isn’t the only interruption I have to work around throughout my day. Notifications pop up, emails come in, I get another robocall (STOP). I live with people who insist at watching television at full volume (or my favorite, turning on the television, turning up the volume, and then leaving the room to not watch television at full volume).

I tried enforcing a “please don’t come into my office unless you knock first” policy, but dogs (and apparently people) don’t understand knocking as a general concept. And even if either of these parties did knock, a knock is still an interruption. Interruptions are part of the writing life, really.

So how do you deal?

Honestly, the first thing you need to do to handle “writing interruptions” is to accept that they aren’t going to stop happening. Writers don’t live in an enclosed bubble completely cut off from the outside world. I’m not going to get rid of my dog because she stops me in the middle of a really good chapter. I’m not going to throw out all the TVs in my house to make it quieter (though I can’t say I’ve never been tempted to try it).

But even though I can’t kick out the dog or hide the remotes, I can minimize certain interruptions, adapt my schedule, and work around the inconveniences I face on a daily basis. Or do my best to, anyway.

  • List out the things that interrupt your writing time. For me: Puppy. TV. Twitter notifications.
  • Highlight the interruptions you have control over and decide how you’re going to handle them. For me: Twitter notifications. I can very easily log out of my Twitter account on my computer if it’s distracting me (temporarily blocking it with Cold Turkey is an effective last resort), and simply flipping my phone over or turning it off takes care of that problem. (I could also give my phone to the dog, but I’m not sure that would end well.)
  • Figure out how you can work around the interruptions you can’t control. I have a pretty good idea of when the TV is going to start blasting. Sometimes noise-canceling headphones are enough, but it’s actually a lot easier for me to write in complete silence. (I like being able to hear where the dog is, because long story, she can’t be trusted.) This means I have to do a lot of writing very early in the morning, which actually isn’t my favorite time to do it, but it works. And the dog, well, as I said earlier, when she naps, I write. It also works.
  • Don’t blame other people/your pets. Most people (and 99.9% of all pets, the 0.1% is my dog) don’t even realize they are interrupting you. Writers are weird. We sometimes deep focus so hard that we forget our own names. A lot of people aren’t even aware that’s a thing. Don’t roll your eyes at them for not respecting your time or space. Writers have to learn to work around other people’s existence sometimes. It’s not easy to stay in your own head when there are other things going on in your world that apparently need your immediate attention. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
  • Set boundaries. It’s not always easy negotiating with your fur children. But people are a lot easier to approach with these kinds of things. Sometimes, you are going to need to confront the people in your life and let them know you need just one hour of uninterrupted time every evening. No interruptions, no noise. Make a deal. Play with the dog for an hour and I’ll take her out at three in the morning because she can most definitely hold it until five, but doesn’t know it. I don’t know what your living situations are like. Do what you will with these tips.
  • Plan for the worst. There are small interruptions, like puppies wanting you to pet them at inconvenient times. Then there are bigger interruptions, like unexpected life events that take you away from your writing for longer periods of time. Expect these things to happen every once in a while, and give yourself permission to step away from your work when they do. You don’t have to shut out the world to get writing done. Especially when important things come up.

Interruptions can be frustrating, and very difficult to manage for many writers. But don’t let them stand in your way. Write around them. Thrive despite them. There are many things in this world you will not be able to control. Focus instead on the things you CAN control, do your best, and be patient.

If writing truly matters to you, you will find a way to make it happen.

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

You Don’t ‘Find’ Writing Success. You Create It.

Is writing success really something you “find”?

“Finding writing success is a challenge worth pursuing.”

That sounds nice. But what does it really mean?

I don’t mean the actual message behind the phrase — that succeeding in writing isn’t easy, but is worth the effort you’re willing to put into it.

I mean the actual words. “Finding writing success.”

Is writing success really something you “find”?

I’ve used the phrase myself a dozen times on this blog and any other place I’ve talked about writing. “Finding” writing suceess sounds cool, like you’re making some kind of epic discovery after a very long journey full of trials and missteps and small victories. But I have a big problem with the word “find” in this context. So I’ve decided to change the way I refer to writing success as I’m encouraging people to achieve it.

At some point either in a writing or language class or in your own practice as a writer, you probably encountered lessons about the difference between active and passive voice. You don’t write, “By walking I got to the coffee shop.” That sounds wrong somehow, even if you’re not exactly sure how. Instead of using passive voice, you turn the sentence into an active phrase: “I walked to the coffee shop.” There. That’s better.

Passive voice is clunky and confusing. It’s often unclear who is doing an action and why. Passive things are almost never favorable. Passive aggression, for example.

“Finding writing success.” It sounds like a very passive, effortless thing, doesn’t it? It implies that you were just strolling casually down the road and accidentally stumbled upon writing success. You found it! But that, furthermore, implies you put zero effort into your achievements. You simply strolled casually, and then writing success happened.

Those who have succeeded in writing, know people who have, or at the very least know what it takes to succeed as a writer are very aware that success is not passive. It does not “come naturally,” it does not simply happen because you will it to happen. Definitely not all on its own.

Writing success happens with years of hard work, of consistent time and effort put into improving your writing skills, connecting with writers and editors, and making a place for yourself in the publishing industry (whatever that might mean for you specifically).

Hard work. Time. Effort. Making space, all as you are creating works of art that have the potential to touch lives, say things that matter, and change the world one reader at a time.

The truth is, you don’t “find” writing success at all, friends. You create it.

You. Not your creative writing teacher, not your mom, not your roommate’s cousin’s best friend’s uncle. You.

No one else can or should do the work for you. That’s on you.

No one else can dictate your odds of success. You create them yourself.

Will you encounter people along the way who will help you? Of course. Every writer needs an editor, for example. But those who are helping you are part of your success, and wouldn’t have joined you on your quest if you hadn’t first ventured far enough along in your journey to realize you needed them.

It is still a path that you are creating for yourself. With enough effort, the hope is that every writer will determine the route that will most effectively get them to where they want to go, and along the way they will earn the trust and help and respect of those qualified to assist them in any way possible. Agents. Editors. Publishers. Readers. And so on.

Someday when you look back on your life as a writer and remember all that you have accomplished, you won’t say, “Wow, I really found success, didn’t I?” No. You made that. You created that. You started out with absolutely nothing and you built something from that void and you deserve to say, “Yeah, that was me. I did that. I succeeded.”

I hope you’ll get to that point someday. To the top of the mountain, where you can look back in the direction from which you came and allow yourself to be proud of all you have accomplished.

If you continue to work hard, if you set goals and figure out how to turn them into achievements, if you train yourself not to give up no matter what comes your way to try and knock you off course, I promise you, you will create the success you have always wanted. It may not look exactly the way you’ve dreamed of it. But it will happen one way or another. And you will be so glad you did that. Not all on your own, but using yourself as the ultimate foundation. Because you are just THAT strong, and THAT brave, and THAT relentless.

So, what are you waiting for? Start writing. Right now. Or get back to it. Or ramp up your efforts. Success isn’t nearly as far off as you might think.

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

Stuck In a Rut? Act Like You’re a Beginning Writer Again.

Go back to the beginning and just breathe.

Have you ever felt … stuck?

As if no matter how fast the wheels in your head were turning, you weren’t moving even an inch in the right direction?

It’s not writer’s block, exactly. It’s more like feeling you’ve been writing the same old things for so long that you’re beginning to question whether you’re even capable of coming up with an original idea anymore.

Even writers who have been doing this whole “start dumping your brain thoughts onto a blank page and just see what happens” thing for many years often find themselves stuck or bored. And there’s nothing worse for creativity than feeling like you’re trapped in a box with no way out.

There are plenty of ways to combat this, of course. Some authors swear by writing retreats, refueled by escaping to a location outside their normal route and spending time away from the “real world.” Others believe it’s not just healthy, but necessary, to take writing breaks. Days, weeks, maybe even months spent not writing so that your brain starts to miss it, and your itch to write — and the motivation to do so — returns.

But let’s say these things simply aren’t options for you. You can’t just drop everything and spend a week or even a long weekend writing in a cabin next to a lake or in the middle of a forest. Or you have these things called deadlines, or you’ve already “taken time off” from writing and can’t afford to take any more.

What then? How do you get yourself to feel unstuck without drastically changing your routine?

Whenever I feel trapped or as if I’ve been running on the same creativity treadmill for weeks on end, it’s usually because I’ve been working on the same three projects day in and day out. As much as we humans love repetition, we also get bored. This is why some people “project hop” — moving from one writing project to the other, never finishing or barely starting each one before moving on to the next. So I’m not going to suggest outright that you abandon everything you’re working on and start something new.

What you can do, however, is allow yourself a little exercise. No, not the actual running on a treadmill kind, though that really can clear your head and give you plenty of time to think about things, maybe stumble upon a new idea without stumbling over your own feet.

Beginning writers spend a lot more time exercising their creativity than most of the more seasoned writers out there. That’s because the more we write, we trick ourselves into thinking we don’t need to jog for five minutes before breaking into a sprint, so to speak, even though we’d have a much better run (writing session) if we took the time to warm up a little.

I’ve gotten into the habit of playing around creatively for a bit before I dive into a more serious project (e.g., a novel or an article), and it consistently improves my thought process and the way I approach everything I work on. All it takes is thinking like a beginner, even if you aren’t one.

When you were first learning how to write, either in school or on your own time, there were probably specific exercises you did to get your ideas flowing and begin practicing and developing your skill.

For me, it was essays. In elementary school, I felt like we were ALWAYS writing essays. Our teachers would give us a topic (e.g., write about a time you were surprised) and remind us of the general format we were expected to follow (remember transitions? Oh, transitions!).

Prompts are extremely helpful for beginners, but you don’t have to be a beginning writer to use them. There are days I wish my creative writing teacher from high school would walk into my home office and tell me what to write about. Of course, that would also mean he would make himself comfortable, let me write for a few minutes, and then interrupt me and tell me where the story needed to go next. Man, I hated that. And loved it all the same.

You can, of course, just look up writing prompts online — there are plenty of them.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing this. It’s not lazy and it’s not hurting you creatively. It’s kind of like jumpstarting your car when it’s struggling to get going. The car still isn’t going to do the driving for you. But that jolt gives you the push you need to allow your mind to begin working through an idea.

Writing like a beginner doesn’t mean you return to your former life of clichés and predictable storylines, necessarily. It just means you allow yourself to approach writing a little less seriously, with a little less pressure. Most true beginners may have dreams of publishing a book someday, for example. But they’re not worried about that. They’re focused on what they’re doing right now to learn the basics, put in the practice time, and improve gradually but significantly over time.

You can return to that, if you’re feeling stuck. You don’t have to toss aside what you’re working on. But maybe what you need is to take a step back from all the pressure and just let yourself write a little more freely. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Allowing some room to breathe and take it easy with some fun prompts and aimless prose can help reset your mind and get you back on track — without even having to leave your couch, home office, kitchen table, wherever it is you normally write.

Beginners are taught to slowly ease into their craft, take their time, and open their eyes to a world full of creative possibilities. Learn from them. Be one of them, even if you technically arent’t.

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

It’s OK to ‘Still’ Need an Editor

There’s nothing wrong with needing an extra set of eyes.

Do you think you’re “too good” to need an editor?

“I got this,” you say. “I don’t need someone else to correct my spelling. I’m good.”

But then you publish your blog post or article or whatever it is you’ve just launched into the world, and you start getting comments. That last paragraph didn’t make any sense. I see the point you were trying to make but … You may have mixed up a few of your facts on page four.

WHAT? How is that possible?! You took extra time to make SURE everything was proofread perfectly!

The thing you missed, though, is that editors don’t just edit spelling and grammar. That’s definitely something you might be able to manage on your own.

No, editors do a lot more than that. Like helping you rephrase a few sentences that went off the rails a little bit, or having you check over a few facts that seem a little off.

Editors matter. And this becomes extremely apparent when you have one, and then suddenly don’t anymore.

About a year into my first full-time job as a writer, our company started doing monthly article workshops. This involved a writer and editor pairing up one-on-one three times every quarter to go over notes about a specific article, in addition to weekly “check-ins” in which the editor would comment on a published story from that week about details they had changed, “fixed,” or improved.

I loved this process. And I loved my editor. (I miss you!!) And when Business Happened and the company got rid of all our editors, I felt lost. When you’re used to having that extra layer of protection from errors and such, it feels uneasy when it disappears. You’re technically sending unedited work out into the world — edited by you, HOPEFULLY, but not proofed by another set of eyes — and that’s tough even for someone who has been proofreading their own work for a long time.

There are advantages to being forced to act as your own editor, of course. It forces you to go a lot slower, be a lot more cautious, and check over your work not once, not twice, but hopefuly three or four times before you hit that publish button for the last time.

But there’s also absolutely nothing wrong with feeling like you need an editor to stay afloat. I personally feel the most comfortable publishing something about Star Wars or Marvel, for example, if I know there are multiple editors backing me up who will catch anything I may have missed. The larger the audience, the more I want my work to be looked over before it’s released.

This is why I don’t worry quite so much about my blog posts. I make $1.56 per month from this blog (thank you lovely Patreon supporters!) and can’t afford to hire an editor. But those of you who read regularly are probably going to forgive minor typos, if there are any, as opposed to readers on a fan site who will comment or send an email because of one misspelled word. (Why do people do that? What do they gain from this?)

I’m not ashamed to admit I don’t trust myself! I write very quickly, and sometimes my hands can’t keep up with my brain. The latest message from one of my site editors: “You forgot to finish this sentence …” It happens more often than you’d think from someone who has been writing as much for as long as I have. I am a human. I mess up. And one of my biggest fears, especially writing in the health space, is getting something very, very wrong.

That’s what editors are for. To catch things like that. Self-editing is fine, but you are simply not going to see every little thing that’s wrong with your work. By the time you’re done writing it, your brain thinks it knows the words so well that it’s almost like it skips right over the errors. You might catch some of them, but definitely not all of them.

There are ways to combat this issue, of course — some suggest reading your work backwards, sentence by sentence. Others swear by reading your work aloud, which is my preferred method when I’m really taking the time to make something as close to flawless as possible.

But here’s the thing about being a professional writer: Your time is extremely valuable. And if you’ve ever edited your own work before, you know that if you’re really aiming to get it right, it’s an extremely time-consuming process. It’s difficult. Editors exist to take that burden off our shoulders. Will you have one when you’re first starting out? Probably not. But once you do have one, whether it’s for a job or you hire one yourself, you’ll never want to go back. And that’s okay. You’ve done your time. You don’t have to.

No matter how experienced you are, you shouldn’t have to do all this by yourself. Could I self-edit everything I write and publish it without another person looking over it first? Absolutely. I have the skills, I have the experience, I could do it. But I utilize my resources, because by this point, I’ve earned them. Plus, I’m much better at editing other writers’ work than my own. I think all editors are like that. Looking at your own stuff is just … nah.

Needing an editor isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you have no idea what you’re doing. In fact, leaning on an editor proves you’re at a point where you’re willing to trust someone else to hold and care for your baby. That’s a big step for a lot of people. If you can, focus on the most important part of the process — the actual writing — and leave the editing to someone who is getting paid to make your words look and sound pretty.

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

What If Every Book You Read Offers You a Piece of Another Writer’s Soul?

Think about it for a minute.

Well, that’s a jarring headline. But I’m not going to apologize for the way my brain works. Bear with me for just a little while, and I swear you won’t be disappointed.

There are a lot of metaphors and similes used to make an attempt to explain to non-writers what writing is actually like. I’ve been comparing writing a book to raising a child for years, despite the fact that I have been single for the majority of those years and do not have a child and don’t know firsthand if the two experiences are even fairly comparable.

My favorite Harry Potter “revelation” (and I don’t mean the kinds of insignificant revelations J.K. Rowling reveals after having already finished the series) has to do with Horcruxes — sort of. If you’ve never read the books, a Horcrux is formed when someone “splits” their soul and puts a piece of it into an object, like a journal or a locket or, oh I don’t know, another person.

Voldemort (the Big Bad of the Harry Potter universe) is known for doing the unthinkable: splitting his soul into not two, but seven separate pieces.

Someone on Tumblr (or maybe it was Twitter, or Reddit, or Facebook, does it really matter?) once pointed out that J.K. Rowling technically also split her soul into seven pieces since the series contains seven books and a writer leaves a piece of themselves in everything they compose. And I wasn’t the only one who flipped out over that observation.

Because that’s kind of a hugely accurate way to put it. We’re not just putting time and energy and sweat and tears into the books (or other things) we write. We’re also pouring out our experiences and emotions and beliefs, completely unable to stop ourselves from leaving parts of us behind in those pages.

That’s a cool thing to think about. Every time you write something, you’re putting a little more of yourself out into the world. That’s warm fuzzies level awesome.

But have you ever thought about what that would technically mean when you picked up a book someone else had written and read it from cover to cover?

If every writer leaves behind a piece of their soul in the things they write, for example, and you come along and consume them, are you also — in a very twisted but maybe kind of not so terrible way — absorbing those pieces of other writers’ souls?

And when you sit down and begin writing your own stories, do pieces of you — and pieces you have picked up as you’ve read — get left behind in your book, only to be passed on, allowing the cycle to repeat endlessly for the rest of time?

I’m a huge advocate for real-world personal experience over secondhand exposure — meaning I think it’s much more beneficial to go climb a mountain rather than reading a story about someone climbing a mountain if you’re going to write about mountain climbing.

But reading can, and should, also be part of how we learn about the world and the people in it. It’s very likely you’re never going to climb Mt. Everest (I mean, I’m not trying to crush your dreams here, but let’s just assume for a second that it’s not going to happen). That doesn’t mean you can’t learn about what the experience would be like by reading someone else’s written account of it.

The best stories are the ones that leave us changed, or contemplating change. And those stories are, more often than not, written from some form of personal experience. At the very least, an author was deeply impacted by something that happened in the real world and decided to write a story about it.

They were affected by something they heard or saw or witnessed someone go through, and it influenced them to retell a version of those events. They can’t accomplish that retelling without conveying how it made them feel, and that’s how this begins — leaving a piece of yourself behind in the characters and plot points and messages other people may one day “adopt” from reading what you’ve written.

Maybe this is truly why we read. So that as we grow and mature and move throughout the world, we can take and leave behind pieces of humanity. This is, after all, why we do what we do. We convey what it means to be a person by telling stories about people. And we understand what it means to be a person by reading stories about people.

Read more books. Write more books. Don’t just open yourself up to the world. Leave behind lessons and discoveries for others to find and pass along. If you can’t think of any other way to leave some kind of mark on the world, this might be it. This might be the way it happens.

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

Writers: Mind Your ‘Comfort Food’

Don’t let yourself get too comfortable.

In my quest to write as much as I possibly can this year — in an attempt to push and challenge myself, because I need it — I started writing a lot of “fluff.”

And I don’t mean that I began writing aimlessly just to increase my word count (though the fluff did help with that). What I mean is that I stopped taking my writing quite so seriously. I kept my focus on my professional work and treated that with the seriousness and care it deserved. But I also started spending my evenings (and sometimes even my mornings) writing stories I was never going to show to anyone.

I’m a huge advocate for “creating when no one’s watching.” There’s great value in isolated experimentation. Everyone needs a bubble where they can throw around new ideas, let their prose go off the rails, and test what they are creatively capable of without worrying about people judging their choices.

I grew very fond of this bubble. I started spending a lot of time in there, determined to put in as much “practice time” as my days allowed. Which is not at all a bad thing, by the way. The more you train yourself to let go and go with your creative instincts, the better you’ll become at telling stories.

The problem was, I got a little too warm and cozy in that bubble. Because it turned out, without realizing it, that bubble took me back to a place I’d thought I left behind for good: my creative comfort zone.

I realized I had been spending nearly a month telling different versions of basically the same story. I kept the topics safe and familiar — things I often wrote about and felt I could pull off with the least amount of effort. Was I technically getting more writing done? Yes. But I wasn’t challenging myself the way I had set out to do at the beginning of the year. I was just filling space. Filling time.

I like to consider the writing time I spend in this cozy bubble my creative “comfort food.” When it comes to pantry snacks, potato chips are my go-to “stress relief” food. I could eat those things by the handful — okay, if I’m honest, by the bag. They fill me with familiar comfort when I need it most. They also fill me with calories. Technically chowing down on comfort food counts as part of my daily food consumption. But as much as I’d love to only eat potato chips all day every day, I couldn’t thrive on fried tuber slices alone.

I also need, you know, vegetables. And fruit. And protein.

In other words (HA) I need to write things with a little bit more substance a little more often.

There is nothing wrong with eating a handful or two of potato chips in a day. As long as you are balancing that out with fiber and vitamins and other “good for your body” stuff.

There is nothing wrong with writing fiction that does not involve trying very hard. As long as you are also writing things that challenge you and expand your horizons and make you think more deeply and creatively.

Practice time as a writer is good. But what are you “practicing” for if you never apply what you’re learning on your own writing time to something other people are going to see?

As with all things, there has to be a healthy balance between comfortable things and challenging things. I wouldn’t say I have this balance mastered. In fact, I’ve really been struggling with it lately. Some days it’s just easier to write whatever you want instead of sitting down to write something that’s going to stretch you to what feels like beyond your limits.

We all need to stretch, though. And while SOME writing is certainly better than NO writing, you can’t spend all your time staying comfortable. That’s not how we grow. That’s how we stay the same, always writing the same old things, always sticking with what we know and what’s familiar.

You are always welcome back to your bubble in moments you need relief. You don’t have to get rid of it forever — in fact, you shouldn’t. But step out of it on more occasions that you snuggle into it. Don’t just write what comforts you. Write what scares you. Write about what you don’t fully understand, so you can learn as you go. Write things that exhaust and move you. That’s how you know you’re thriving. You wear yourself out, but in a good way.

I always have at least one bag of potato chips in the pantry in case I ever need them. But I don’t always. I feel much more energized, much more fulfilled, when I choose comfort food as a reward instead of using it as an escape.

Write what you have to, maybe. Then write what you want to. Get out there, learn new things, write new stories. Then take some time to curl up in comfort and be proud of what you’ve accomplished.

Balance. It’s difficult to achieve. But it works.

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

12 Writing “Self Care” Strategies That Aren’t Traditional Self Care

These aren’t your typical self-care tips.

1. When you REALLY don’t feel like writing, try writing something anyway. See what happens.

2. Think of a story you really weren’t satisfied with. Now think of how you might have told it better. (This is just for your brain. You don’t have to share it with anyone. Especially not the author of the story you did not like. Please don’t do that. Why would you do that?)

3. Write a fanfiction story set in your favorite fandom’s universe. You know you want to.

4. Write a letter to someone from your past you don’t talk to anymore.

5. Work on something that’s just for you — something no one will ever see.

6. Write something quick that makes you happy. The content and quality don’t matter, it should just make you feel nice.

7. Write a story full of cliches you know aren’t great but do you know what DOES feel great? Telling a story and not worrying about it being perfect.

8. Write about an emotion you’re currently feeling. Take that where you will. Have fun!

9. Have you ever had a favorite character from a story you wrote — you know, the one you sort of like more than all the others but you’d never admit that out loud? Write a new story about them. Spend some time with them. It’s like hanging out with your BFF except they’re not real and you’re alone.

10. Start writing that story you’ve always wanted to write but have always been afraid to tell. DO IT! You don’t even have to finish it! Just start it!

11. STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS WRITING! Don’t know what that is? Just sit down, set a timer, and write write write! Doesn’t matter what! It’s going to be terrible! Keep writing anyway! Don’t stop until the timer says you can stop!

12. And when you’ve done some low stakes, not your best, probably maybe won’t ever look at it again writing, change into some comfy clothes. Order a pizza. Relax. You’ve earned it.

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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.