Reflecting on the past - looking to the future. It's a January sort of thing. So join me as I think about the 7 Things I've Learned in my writing life to date.
1. Good support is invaluable - I lucked into an excellent writing group from the get go. The four of us had been in many of the same writing workshops, so we knew each other and we shared an understanding and vocabulary for critiquing. We knew each other well enough to be kind but honest in giving feedback.
2. Have a thick skin and an open mind – When you write, you’re putting yourself out there. Intellectually, mentally, emotionally. Those words are your babies; of course, they are great. Maybe to you. Not necessarily to the reader. Even with a writing group like mine – maybe especially so – it’s important to remember you won’t always like what you hear. Like the time one of my writing buddies told me I had a real talent for writing erotica. Except I wasn’t writing erotica. Content. Tone. Timing. What I’d written was spot on and completely wrong at the same time. It took two weeks for me to get past those comments. To realize I had to start again and may as well be happy doing it.
3. Keep studying the craft – I’ve been writing and getting paid for it throughout my professional career. But there’s always something new to learn. The types and uses of prose styles. The strength of a well chosen metaphor. The power of ‘once.’ How less can be so much more. I suppose my writing is ‘good enough,’ but it’s delightful to learn one more thing and become exponentially better. Workshops at the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin and in Des Moines' basements led by experienced, insightful, kind leaders have brought my writing light years.
4. Inspiration and clarity come from walking – Inspiration can come from anywhere, but when I’m stuck on a plot development, when I can’t figure out motivation, when I’m just plain out of creativity, I will almost always find the answer in nature. Fresh air, a sunrise, the call of a bird, flowers in bloom – they perk me up. Somewhere at the end of mile three, it all seems so much clearer. I’m ready to get back at it.
5. Deadlines are necessary – I can dawdle with the best of them. More coffee? Sure! Time to load the washing machine? Might as well. Check e-mail? Every time it blips. If there are two weeks or two days, I’ll use every second. But give me a deadline and watch me focus. When I’m writing fast, I’m writing concisely, hitting the main points, no time for meandering. I get more writing, better writing, done when I have a deadline. So I have to create deadlines if I want to get writing out the door. And it helps when I have to face up to others with the copy.
6. Trust your gut – When my writing isn’t going well, I know it. The words don’t flow. A section just doesn’t feel right. Even when I sense a problem, I often hit ‘send’ and ship the work off to my writing group anyway. Maybe it’s laziness on my part. Maybe insecurity. Maybe it's not really as bad as I think. That's what I hope, anyway. Invariably, my group points directly to the spots I perceived were problems. I’m learning to acknowledge that if I feel there’s a problem, there probably is. And that I need to do the hard work of fixing it before I send it to the group.
7. Shut up and write – I’ve been a fan since Natalie Goldberg wrote ‘shut up and write’ in her excellent book Writing Down the Bones. Research is not writing. Reading is not writing. Thinking is not writing. Only writing is writing. As some point, any real writer has to commit to chair and keyboard. For a few minutes. For a few hours. Apply the ‘butt glue’ and write. My best, most productive time is 9-noon. Commit to the time, establish a deadline, keep the door closed. Writing will follow.
**I 'borrowed' the idea of reflecting on my writing life so far by focusing on 7 things I've learned from Guide to Literary Agents.