December 25, 2019

Non-Writing Advice for Weary Writers

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

To all you good writerly girls and boys (and the bad ones, I suppose), I offer this advice. Not writing advice, though. That's overplayed. No, I offer good, sound advice to make your life easier, which will, in turn, make your writing better.

1) Don’t worry about “making it”.

What does “making it” even mean? Landing an agent? Being published? Being a best seller? And what is “it”? A novel? A published novel? Life as a professional writer? I think that we’re all in this writing game for different reasons, but mainly for the love of it—by which mean writing. We don’t set out to “make it” profitable or marketable, because we don’t write for the profit or for the market. We write for us. You write for you. Are you writing? Then you’ve made something, and that’s good enough.

2) Go outside.

Sunlight, even indirect sunlight, helps you process Vitamin D, which lets you absorb calcium from your food, and calcium does all sorts of things for your bones and muscles and blood and heart. Thus, being outside is good for your body. It’s also good for your soul. Feeling the wind, listening to the birds, watching insects and spiders go about their tiny business. Remember that you, too, are a creature of this world, not just a mind and a set of hands for typing on a keyboard. Going outside can be a way to take a break from writing, or can be part of writing itself, a way to anchor yourself in reality. Try it yourself. At least open the window curtains! It’s a big wide real world out there, and it’s good for all of us: bugs, spiders, and writers included.

3) Be kind to your past self.

So many writers call their old writing “cringey” and mock their previous interests, but why? You wouldn’t mock some teenager you just met for their enthusiasm and excitement over writing, no matter how edgy or over the top or clich├ęd it may be. When I read teenaged writing, including my own, I see un-jaded passion, unfettered opinions, and honesty. I also see young writers learning their craft. You were young once, too, excited about your story without worrying if it was silly or stilted. Now, you’re probably a little older, a little wiser, and have a little more finesse. But you wouldn’t be here now without your teenaged self’s first attempts. Be kind—be grateful—to that past you.

4) Don’t idolize famous authors.

If a best-selling author’s advice resonates with you, follow it. If it sounds like a lot of nonsense, don’t. Take everything with a grain of salt. First off, people have different writing styles, and most writing advice does not fit most styles or genres. Secondly, being famous doesn’t actually make one a great writer (E. L. James springs readily to mind). And some authors are simply too big for their britches. Stephen King once tweeted, “Here are 2 phrases you must NEVER use: ‘for a long moment’ and ‘for some reason.’ Find another way!” This from the man who not only wrote a scene where 11-year-olds have an orgy in a sewer, but who presented it as a good thing. Because that wasn’t one of the two things one must never write, I guess? For some reason, people still take this chucklehead seriously.

5) Defrag you brain.

If you’ve been mulling over the same plot hole for two weeks straight, try doing something unrelated to writing. This can be hiking, shopping, playing video games, reading books, or whatever. Let your mind wander. If it wanders to your story, let it, but don’t force it to do anything. Let it make whatever connections it wants. Your story will thank you later.

6) Defrag your body.

Sit up straight with your screen at a proper height so your head is not bent downward. Take up a physical hobby, like crafting, acting, cooking, woodworking, or lifting weight. Move your limbs and your hands. Stretch daily. Your body will thank you later.

7) Be kind to your future self.

Keep track of old notes and old drafts so you don’t have to hunt them down. Set reasonable and realistic deadlines and goals so you don’t feel bad for not meeting pie-in-the-sky ones. Be aware of upcoming, non-writing obligations that might prevent you from meeting a goal and push the deadline forward so you don’t feel the need to rush.

8) Don’t call your work garbage.

…or trash, or “the worst”, or anything like that. First of all, realize that a first draft is not a final draft; all the pretty, polished writing you’ve seen from other writers has gone through rewrites and edits. Secondly, realize that humility is not the same as self-hatred. It’s fine to not boast and brag about your work, but it’s not helpful—to you or other writers—to denigrate it. It makes writers who aren’t as good as you feel bad (“Gosh, if they think theirs is trash, mine must be a dumpster fire!”), makes writers who are better than you feel awkward (“Are they… fishing for compliments, or…”), and makes you no better as a writer for having said it.

9) Ask for help.

If you’re struggling with a scene, talk it out with someone. If you’re too busy to update the next section of a story, tell your audience. If your wrists or neck or back hurt when you’re typing, see a doctor to see if there’s something you can do to minimize the strain on your body. It’s okay to ask people for help. More importantly, it’s okay to admit that you’re struggling. It’s ok to take breaks, and naps, and time. You’re nobody’s slave, not even your own. If you’re suffering, chances are your writing is, too. Ask for help when you need it.

10) Be kind to yourself.

The golden rule is to treat others as you treat yourself, but that only works if you treat yourself well. It’s almost a new year—a new decade—so why not start it out right? Look at all the writing you’ve done, and be proud of it. If you can master the art of kindness, to others and yourself, you’re going to have a great new year.

See you in 2020!

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