Stop Doing These Things If You REALLY Want to Be a Writer

You cannot write five pages of a story on your first try and expect every writer who has been doing this way longer than you to be able to tell you how to make it publishable.

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I bet you came here thinking this would be a list of all the right and wrong things to do if you want to get published, or make money writing, or start a blog, or submit your work to a magazine. Not today. Today, there is no right. There is no wrong. There is only necessity. Unlike most of the posts that go up on this blog, the tips here are not optional. If you want to make it, you must do these things.

You must stop saying and start doing.

How long have you been telling people you are going to write a novel? Or a play or a song or a book of poems? That’s great; confidence is important. But you need to stop telling everyone what you are going to do and start actually doing it. The longer you spend saying “I’m going to be a writer,” the less likely you are to actually ever become one. Writers write. Don’t talk about all the masterpieces you are going to create: sit down and create them. No one is going to do it for you. You have to put in the work. You have to spend the time and energy.

Stop asking and evaluating and learn by doing it wrong the first time.

Imagine you are going to try riding on a skateboard for the first time. You have never even tried to stand on one before; you have no idea what to do. So you buy yourself a new skateboard, the best one you can find (according to all the reading you did beforehand about the best skateboards on the market) and head over to the local skate park, where all the more experienced skaters hang out. You sit on the edge of the action and watch how they skate for awhile, analyzing every detail – so when you’re ready to give it a try, you’ll know exactly what to do.

You do this every day for a few weeks. Finally, today, you decide to try standing on your skateboard. You can do that. You try pushing yourself forward, go a few feet and then catch yourself before falling to the ground. What do you do next? You have two options: go up to one of the more experienced skaters and ask them to watch you skate, to critique you and tell you everything you are doing wrong, or put your skateboard back on the ground and try again. And again. And again.

You cannot write five pages of a story on your first try and expect every writer who has been doing this way longer than you to be able to tell you how to make it publishable. You are going to have to try, fail and try again, many times. Someone else can’t do that for you. You can spend your days moving a few feet forward and running to the nearest skater to ask for help, or you could learn from your mistakes, practice and get better over time, by working hard, on your own.

Stop worrying about the big hurdles when you haven’t even gotten over the small ones yet.

I see posts in writing groups all the time debating whether or not to use pen names, the best writing software, how to find agents when a book isn’t even finished being written yet. While all these and more are valid questions, and I don’t want to discourage anyone from asking questions, you can’t spend all your energy and time worrying about things that will never be legitimate concerns unless you have a finished (written AND edited) book to work with. Focus on writing first … and everything else later.

Now, friends … get back to writing.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Five Things My Mentors Have Taught Me About Writing

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Writing itself is a solo activity. Being a writer is not. We can teach ourselves how to write stories and read books and try to get better, but it’s working with other writers, and finding mentors to guide us, that make us great at what we do.

I’ve had a lot of mentors throughout my journey to becoming a (relatively) accomplished writer, and each of them have taught me something different. Here’s what I’ve learned, and how you can find your own mentors.

 1. There is no such thing as a perfect piece of writing 

Courtesy of one of my literature professors in college, who never gave perfect grads on papers because there’s no such thing as a perfect literary analysis, or, any piece of writing.

We spend way too much of our time trying to write the perfect story, the perfect pitch, the perfect beginning, middle, end. That’s valuable time gone to waste. What’s the challenge of writing something good if all we care about is submitting something without any errors? It’s not possible. Just write; it’s not supposed to be flawless. That’s why it’s called a “draft.”

 2. Less is more

Before I became the managing editor of College Lifestyles magazine, I was our former managing editor’s assistant, and before that, I was just an editor. I turned a 1,000-word article in to her for editing once. I ended up trimming it down to under 600, and if you know me, you know how hard that was.

It’s about quality, not quantity. People don’t want to know you can write a lot. They want to know you can send powerful messages in as few words as possible. As a Wrimo veteran, I’m used to cranking out as many words as possible, but that’s a habit we all need to learn to break when we’re not sprinting.

 3. Stop using so many “thats”

Before I became a CL editor, as you can imagine, I was a writer working underneath my own section editor. That experience was the first time I had ever really written for anyone else, and honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. Especially when it came to filler words, of which “that” seems to be a popular one.

My editor worked with me for six months to teach me not to use “that” unless absolutely necessary. You can write, “A lot of people don’t know that writing is hard,” or you can write, “A lot of people don’t know writing is hard.” If you can take out a word and a sentence still makes sense, leave it out.

 4. Sitting at a computer and typing will not make you a better writer

I was really shy in high school (okay, I still am). All I wanted to do was write. I would have much rather sat alone and written a novel (which I did, many times over) than get up and do things with other people. Then I took a creative writing class, three years in a row, with the same teacher.

He made us do all sorts of things not related to writing (or so it seemed): dancing, juggling, walking around blindfolded, trying to drop eggs from a high point without breaking them. I hated every minute of it, until I didn’t. I noticed changes in my writing, yes, from not writing. We can’t just sit around. We have to get up, do dumb things, laugh. Be with people. Draw from our memories to keep our stories alive.

 5. Treat writing the way you’d treat learning to play a musical instrument

This lesson came from a fiction and poetry professor and my academic advisor, who taught one of only two creative writing classes offered in the curriculum at my alma mater. The idea originally came from someone else, I can’t remember whom he read from, but he branched off and elaborated afterward, and that was what stuck with me.

How do you learn to play the piano? By practicing. You don’t just sit down once a month, press down on the keys and suddenly know how to play like an expert. Everything we write counts as practice, but we can’t call ourselves pianists, or writers, if we don’t put in the time and effort, more than the casual player/writer, to refine our skills and be the absolute best we can be. 

How to find your own writing mentor
  • Connect with writers on social media. Seriously. Everyone is in a different place on their journey, and you never know who you might click with, be able to learn something from, or even teach someone else.
  • Take a writing class. They’re not for everyone, but it’s worth a try.
  • Join a writing group, post in a forum.
  • Read blogs about writing. Hey, you’re already doing it!
  • Reach out to publications. Be willing to have your work critiqued by someone else, even if you’re afraid to. 

I still have a lot to learn as I continue to grow and develop as a writer, and plenty of new people to meet and learn new things from. Some of the lessons I learned on this list, I learned from people I don’t speak to anymore. One, I still do. One, unfortunately, is no longer with us.

But they’re lessons I’ll never forget, lessons I am more than happy to pass along to you, if you need them. If you’re feeling stuck, like you’ll never make it.

Keep writing. Keep learning. It is worth every moment.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.