5 Things Writers Never Should Say

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Writers are supposed to be great with words. But there are a few phrases I sometimes hear from those in the profession that, in total honesty, drive me up the wall. These are the ones I hope you scrape from your vocabulary.

1. I don’t know.

Come on now, people. We have Google. If you don’t know something, you can look it up. If you can’t look it up, you can ask someone, such as a mentor or your librarian. Remind yourself that good sources give authority and credibility to your writing, and then go research and find out. If someone won’t answer your questions, or if you discover there really is no data, then report that.

2. I never read…because…

Ever heard the saying that the best defense is a good offense? Well, you can’t refute what you don’t even know. And the more familiar you are with what’s out there, the more you can pinpoint what you personally want to avoid, what works, and what inspires you most. Educate yourself and explore so you can have a real, justified, and experienced opinion.

3. The editor/publisher/agent just has it out for me/doesn’t know good writing!

Most editors, publishers, and agents have spent years in the field and learned from seasoned professionals in the industry. They also have a fiduciary interest in helping you, because without you, their jobs go poof. So even though it never hurts to get a second or even third or fourth opinion, trust that they know what they’re talking about and be open to the fact you have the opportunity to learn something.

4. Writing is easy.

Writing might come naturally to you, but it also requires tons of hard work and dedication. Don’t dismiss that, or others are more likely to dismiss what you do as fluff stuff not worth real support. Always tell people what the experience is really like, warts and all.

5. I want to be like [Some Writer]!

It’s fine to aspire and appreciate what someone else has accomplished as an author. But your path is uniquely your own. Strive for your own voice and way of accomplishing, because the odds are you’ll never have the exact resources or opportunities another writer has had. If there’s someone you look up to, pinpoint the traits they have that you value and find practical ways to develop them in yourself. Always define success on your own terms, not someone else’s.

Why I No Longer Believe in Writer’s Block

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You know how it goes. You sit down at your laptop or with a notebook, ready to write.

Only you don’t. The page stays blank. Nothing happens.

For most of my writing career, I’ve called this writer’s block. But lately, I’ve wondered if there even is such a thing.

The term writer’s block implies that there are hurdles to your creativity, and that to keep working, you have to smash through or jump over them. But nine times out of ten, if I just step away from the keyboard, the creativity flows. It’s just in different ways. For example, maybe you find a cool way to arrange your dishes, or you sing a random song in the shower.

So what’s the deal? How come when you go to write, nothing comes?

Creativity is not entirely just letting your subconscious run wild. It involves some analysis and choice, too. But I’ve started to be more mindful as I try to create my drafts. And I’ve found that, when I encounter a blank page that’s dangerously still white, I’m usually tossing the creativity out the window entirely and letting everything become critical thinking. I start worrying and feeling the pressure of “I have to”. Is this worded right? How do I fix this? Is option A, B, or C better? That’s problem-solving and mitigating risk, not just letting the words flow.

And let’s face it. Sometimes, you just might be in a yucky mood. If you’re mad, you probably could spew to a friend about how you want to incinerate the Earth and become best friends with an alien named Hermies who would eat marshmallow pops as a primary form of sustenance. That’s quite a creative vision!

Or you might have something else that your brain is prioritizing. For example, last weekend, I found it really hard to write a draft because I kept thinking about the flowers I had to put into my garden. I put the draft aside, but when I went to tend the flowers, I still put them in an artistic arrangement. I was creative, just not with words.

So it’s not that your creativity is blocked. It’s still there. It’s just that you’re shifting your focus. The real issue thus is just how to ensure your focus is on your draft when you are at the keyboard.

I don’t think this even would be a problem if we took a more when-it-strikes approach to writing. Instead, we’re always trying to squeeze it into neat little convenient boxes to fit everything else in our lives and have some guarantee of a finish. Those desires/needs make sense, but the system of things isn’t very good for ensuring you’ll sit down to write when your brain and heart can give you the best result.

So next time you feel like you have writer’s block, look around at the other things you’re doing. You’re probably still creative in tons of ways through the rest of your day. Try to be more flexible with yourself so you can work on your drafts in a more stream-of-consciousness, flitting way if need be. The words will come when your brain pings back to the project, and you’ll get your other stuff done/problems solved along the way, too.

5 Things No One Tells Writers (But Totally Should)

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If you’re taking writing seriously, then you probably already are familiar with some of the most common truths of the trade, such as the fact lots of great manuscripts end up in the slush pile. But there are tons of other realities that people should clue you in about (but probably haven’t).

1. Editors, agents, and publishers are just people. 

Because editors, agents, and publishers have a certain amount of expertise, and because they serve as gatekeepers for getting work to readers, writers often put them on a pedestal. But they’re prone to the same excitements, limits, and needs as everybody else, and like everybody else, they’ve probably downed a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s during peak moments of stress.

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You’ll find some writing industry pros who are fantastic and some who are jerks. And at the end of the day, if you don’t send that email or call, they’re out of a job. So see them for the humans they are. Give them empathy and don’t be afraid to reach out or ask questions.

2. Multiple projects protect your sanity.

I’ve had rare instances where editors emailed me back the same day, and even rarer instances where it was within the hour. The typical timeframe for a response, however, is 2 to 4 months. During that time, you have two choices:

  • Ruminate every waking hour about what the agent, editor, or publisher is doing and what they will say because you have nothing to distract you, OR
  • Be productive on something else so your anxiety doesn’t turn you into a shriveled raisin of despair.

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Trust me when I say that the second option has more advantages. Not only do other articles, stories, novels, etc. help the time pass faster, but they also offer consistent practice and more opportunities to be published/make a sale. So get into a rhythm, and develop your own system for tracking everything you’re doing.

3. You’ll spend a ridiculous amount of time Googling.

Even if you’re the best writer on the face of the planet, facts you need might not already be in your brain. Whether you need to figure out the accurate length of a typical medieval sword or you have to grab the latest disease statistic, Google is your best friend. And just like your local library (which I still highly recommend)…

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The problem here, of course, is that it’s so easy to get pulled down the rabbit hole into information you don’t need. It can be hard just to discern what’s going to be useful and what won’t be. So you need to set limits for yourself and get as specific as you can with the questions you are asking. Learn a little about how SEO works so your results actually are relevant. Lastly, make sure that you take the time to create whatever bookmark folders you’ll need, because nothing is worse than trying to use your Internet history to find something you didn’t digitally file.

4. Your pace is your own.

Join any writing group or community online or just read about writing and you’ll likely get the impression that you have to write at the speed of light (or maybe faster). Even publishing “schools”–and there are some good legitimate ones–sell packages based on the idea of getting more books out quickly.

But creativity is not aware of the clock. The brain links pieces at a schedule we can’t put on the agenda. Not only that, sometimes writing isn’t just going through finding words or researching. It’s dealing with truly personal, deep trauma or other emotions that you can’t rush. So if it takes you just a few months to crank out a novel, more power to you. But if you end up as the snail watching a bunch of squirrels spastically scurrying to the finish line, don’t sweat it.

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All that matters is that you don’t quit, and that you keep the focus on creating something with real quality embedded in it.

5. You’ll need to draw the line.

Any piece you write can become a “baby” to you. And in the quest to treat that baby right, it’s natural to go to it multiple times, revise, and try to make it even better. But there comes a point where all you’re doing is changing, not improving. For me personally, I know I’ve hit that point when the revisions are smaller and more grammar-focused, and I’m not really adding or taking anything away that would have a strong influence on the plot. I also know I’ve reached that point when I feel more at ease about the text and have a sense that I’d be totally OK with others seeing the last draft. Remember that leaving one project means that you can enjoy starting another, draw the line, and don’t keep looking back.

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In my view, most people who go into writing don’t go into it truly understanding how to be great at it. It’s a constant learning process, even for people who “naturally” can put words on the page. But because it requires such an enormous commitment, you should have a sense of what you might experience. The points above provide a small glimpse into that. More truths that are true for you will be clearer over time, but whenever you’re in doubt, talk to people in the trenches. They likely will be happy, because of the writer’s inclination, to tell their story for your benefit.

What the Feud Between Stephen King and J.K. Rowling Teaches Us as Writers

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Two weeks ago, J.K. Rowling made waves (again) for her stance on transgender people. This time, she was responding to a tweet by Stephen King, who expressed his belief that “trans women are women”. The Harry Potter author blocked King on Twitter for the post.

First of all, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the fact that Rowling is famous and confident enough in her own right to block someone like King. That. Takes. Balls. AND I LOVE IT.

But beyond that, the authors’ Twitter feud reveals that there’s a delicate balance between supporting other writers, taking an authentic stance, and maintaining/growing a following.

When King responded to Rowling, he told The Daily Beast 

“Here’s the thing: She is welcome to her opinion. That’s the way that the world works. If she thinks that trans women are dangerous, or that trans women are somehow not women, or whatever problem she has with it—the idea that someone ‘masquerading’ as a woman is going to assault a ‘real’ woman in the toilet—if she believes all those things, she has a right to her opinion.

 

And then someone tweeted at me, ‘Do you think trans women are women?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ And that’s what she got angry about—my opinion,” said King. “It’s like the old saying, ‘I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ So, nobody has ‘canceled’ J.K. Rowling. She’s doing fine. I just felt that her belief was, in my opinion, wrong. We have differing opinions, but that’s life.”

Whenever, like Rowling, you make a controversial statement you really believe in, there’s some risk that you could lose followers. The same is true with your online behavior. Some people might have seen just blocking King as offensive. And by defending trans women, King likely ruffled some feathers, too.

But there’s no arguing that, whatever your stance might be on the transgender issue, Rowling isn’t hiding anything. Her thoughts are very clear, and part of being responsible as an author–or as any other professional–is to show the truth of who you are. She’s doing that. And as a result, there’s an increased chance that the people she maintains as followers are going to be loyal for the long haul and buy whatever she writes. In the same way, King was clear what his own stance was.

The difference, in my opinion, is that King comes off as more of a team player. Rather than authoritatively dismiss the person who has a different view, he acknowledges her, even as he clarifies his own position. That acknowledgment matters, because it demonstrates respect for her, both as an artist and human being. Readers aren’t blind to the way you treat others in your field, and it has sway on their opinion of you and your work.

Part of the beauty of writing is that people can express so many things. And as King points out, you do not have to agree with all of what is on the page. But the bigger takeaway from the Rowling/King feud is that we all have an obligation to defend each other’s right to authenticity. If we lose that authenticity, getting readers behind us is going to be an uphill battle, if not impossible.

So as you try to market yourself, speak your heart. That’s the first half of the writer’s duty. But make sure that others can be heard, too. That’s the second half. After all, writing is a hard enough job without us tearing each other down.