Writing advice, Writing and Editing

Tips on How to Be a Writer (from Rebecca Solnit)

  1. Write.

There is no substitute. Start small, write a good sentence, then a good paragraph, and don’t be dreaming of writing the great American novel. That’s not what writing’s all about and it’s not how you get there from here. The road to great writing is made of words and not all of them are great, well-arranged words.

  1. Writing is not typing.

Writing is thinking, researching, contemplating, outlining, maybe with some typing, then revisions, deletions, additions, and setting the project aside and returning afresh; typing is just a minor transaction in between two vast thought processes.

  1. Read. And Don’t Read.

Read good writing and don’t restrict yourself to the present. Literature is not high school and it isn’t necessary to know what everyone else around you is doing. Worse, being greatly influenced by people who are currently being published can make you look just like them, which isn’t often a good thing. Originality is your gold standard. Write from the universal human experience. Write a true human story and write it well; it won’t matter what genre it may take place it.

  1. Find a Vocation.

Talent is overrated and is often mistaken for style. Passion, vocation, vision, and dedication are much more rare, and they will smooth out the rough spots when your talent will not give you a reason to get out of bed and stare at that problem manuscript for the hundredth day in a row. If you aren’t passionate about writing and the world and the things you’re writing about, why bother? It begins with passion even before it begins with words.

  1. Time.

It takes time. This means you have to find the time in your life. Don’t be too social. Live below your means. You probably have to do something else for living, but don’t let your job (or your bills) grow so much that they squeeze out time for your writing.

  1. Facts.

Always get them right. No one will trust you if you get them wrong and any author is doomed if the reading public can trust him. No matter what you’re writing about, whether it’s nonfiction, fiction, or poetry, you have an obligation to get it right, for the characters you’re writing about, for the readers, and for the record.

  1. Joy.

Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you detest what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just created all those flawed sentences. When it totally sucks (and it will), pause, look out the window, and tell yourself you’re doing exactly what you want to be doing. You are hanging out with the language. I am following in the footsteps of Shakespeare and Flaubert. Find pleasure and joy. Find joy in the work, just as a master carpenter does theirs. Enjoy the process.

  1. Success is very nice and comes with lovely byproducts (like money), but success is not love.

At best, it is the love of the work, not love of you. The process of making art is the process of becoming a person with agency, with independent thought, a producer of meaning, rather than a consumer of meanings. And, if you are writing to gain the acclaim of a fickle public, you run the risk of pandering to what you think will be popular. That will often end up seeming shallow and artificial. Instead, write truth. As Ernest Hemingway said: “Write one true sentence. Then write another.” If you write the truth of the human condition, the rest will take care of itself.

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Writing advice

Nine Bad Habits That Hurt Your Writing Career

I recently came upon one of those inspirational lists aimed toward business people who want to be more successful. Since I am the sort of person who is always open to change and personal improvement I read it. I was impressed. More important (to me and this blog anyway) I immediately noted that many of the author’s observations made as much sense for writers as they did for business people. Often, the bad habits that prevent us from being successful in one aspect of our lives prevent us from being successful in every aspect of our lives.

So I adapted them specifically to apply to those of us who are trying to make a mark in the world of writing and literature.

Do you know why the odds of being a successful writer are so low? Because it is insanely difficult. Unfortunately, many of us have slipped into bad habits that actually work against us as we battle those odds. Changing those bad habits is the simplest way to increase those odds.

Simple, not easy.

So let’s get to it. Below are the nine bad habits that prevent us from writing success:

Denying Responsibility

We have to accept responsibility for every aspect of our writing career. Don’t blame our spouses, editors, publishers, or the buying public. Don’t blame circumstances. Don’t blame luck. The success or lack of success in our writing career is a direct consequence of the choices we make. We need to own it.

Procrastination

Procrastination is like a credit card. It can be fun at the time, but sooner or later the bill will come due. Procrastination is a career-killer.

Perfectionism

Perfection does not exist. Anywhere. It is only a great excuse to keep from getting started. Instead of seeking perfection, we need to do our best. We need to strive to be good. We need to strive to be better than we were yesterday. But we need to forget about perfection.

Fear of Criticism

If we are going to achieve anything worthwhile, we must expect tons of criticism and haters. We must learn to handle them. Take the criticism that helps us grow under consideration and ignore the rest. We cannot let the fear of criticism keep us from creating. Trying to please everyone is a sure route to failure.

Fear of Failure

Failure is absolutely necessary. It is a life lesson designed to bring out the best in us. No one likes failing and a little fear is normal. But we must guard against becoming discouraged about our failures. It really is not about how many times we fail, but about how many times we get up and try again.

Laziness

If we’re working just as hard as everyone else, we have to consider ourselves lazy. Writing is an extremely competitive vocation. If we want to stand out above the masses, we will have to work harder and longer than everyone else. We have to work our butts off. It will show in what we create.

Self-doubt

We have to drop all our self-limiting beliefs, all the “I can’t”s. If we want something with a strong enough passion, we will find a way to make the impossible happen. Our only limits are in our own minds. Change them.

Inconsistency

Develop the habit of writing all the time, whether we feel like it or not. The pro writer doesn’t make excuses. She just gets the work done, day in and day out. Short bursts of fiery enthusiasm is the stuff of amateurs.

Complacency

The most successful writers understand that they need to sharpen their skills all the time. We are never, ever, good enough. Once we stop improving our skills, we will immediately fall behind our competition, who are still improving. We need to decide early to become as excellent as we can and to do the work necessary to stay at the top of the field.

Many thanks to Jeremy Ng for the original list.

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