5 Lessons I Learned as a Writer

1. Characters are actual people. So, I had never noticed before a couple of years ago, but the characters that writers create are REAL people. They have wants and dreams, demands and needs. When I write the first draft of a story, the process resembles going for a long car ride. Someone else is in the driver’s seat and I have no idea where the hell we’re going. Sometimes I have tried to impose a direction on my characters, or I resist writing in a direction they WANT to go. Let me tell you, it never ends well.

2. Writing works best with a clear mind.Despite popular theories that mental illness or drug/alcohol abuse are accelerators to the creative process, I have found the opposite to be true. I struggle with depression and when I slip into one of my “valleys” I don’t want to write, I don’t want to exercise, I don’t want to talk to people (not even my characters), I don’t even want to move particularly. For me, writing is about joy and adventure. What depressed person wants to go on an adventure? You have to move (often briskly) and there are usually no M&Ms available. As for drugs and alcohol, I’ve never had a problem with either, but the rational part of me just cannot understand how they are conducive to hard-core writing. I fall asleep after one wine cooler, for crying out loud!

3. No one cares about your writing more than you. This is mainly true before you’ve “made it.” From what I’ve seen, successful, published authors have hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of people who care about their writing – at least, they care about when the next book is coming out. Before you’ve made it, you are a lone warrior. Your characters are depending on you to fight for their voice in the world and the odds are NEVER in your favor. Indifferent people are everywhere from your Facebook friends to the publishing houses and literary agencies to your own living room. The sad truth is no one cares about your stories until you fight to MAKE them care. And some people will only care when you’ve “proven yourself” by getting a contract with a major publisher or making LOTS of money through self-publishing. *Shrug* Money talks, baby.

4. Writing manuals are pretty worthless.I know many people would look at this one and say, “Hey, I learned such and such from such and such manual. It changed my writing for the better.” I say to that, “Great! But you probably could have learned that same lesson by reading some awesome novels/short stories/poems/memoirs etc.” Now, I don’t think all writing manuals are created equal. There are some that have valuable lessons and are worth the the time to study them. Stephen King’s On Writing comes to mind. The Elements of Style is another possibility. Chuck Wendig has some awesome kick-in-the-ass motivators for writers. But, let’s be honest, the vast majority of writing how-to books are superfluous. Worse, they can often paralyze your writing by creating a sense of anxiety that you aren’t “following the rules.” This happened to me. I became so worried about whether my story contained all the elements a particular book advocated that I ended up with creative constipation. I ended up throwing out the majority of my how-to books.

5. Writing is a love affair.This last one was probably my most startling revelation. When I am working on a story, I have to be in love with it. I have to be infatuated with my characters. If not, I feel like I am spending time with a weird, smelly date who likes to paw me. Let’s be clear, being in love with your story/characters does NOT blind you to their faults. No, your love makes you eager to push them towards the best they can be. If you don’t feel that love for your work in progress, if you don’t find yourself mooning about your characters night and day, you need to question whether you are in the right project. Take time away from that project and see if your love develops/returns. If not, think about shelving the project and moving on.

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