10 steps to surviving being a writer

Joe’s Post #98

IMG_4367The 5/5/5 writers meet yesterday to reconnect and review the first 10 pages of our novels.  We met at Paula’s new place, an amazing retreat outside of Gibsons (on the sunshine coast.) It was good to reconnect, good to have writing to submit, good to be able to talk about our stories and get feedback.


IMG_4372Writing is kind of a lonely thing to do. For the most part, you live inside your head. Sometimes it’s a nice, warm place full of fluffy bunnies and a young Sandra Bullock. Sometimes it’s a nasty-ass mess clogged with fears, self-doubts and Gollum-voices.

So, here’s 10 steps to surviving being a writer

1)      You are actually not alone. Connect with other writers. Connect at conferences. On-line. In a coffee shop. Create a critique group. A reading group. FB a friend. Use your words out loud. Talk to people. Every writer I’ve ever met or ever talked to has the same problems and doubts and challenges.

2)      You are powerless over agents and editors and we will get rejected. Probably a lot. Accept this. They are not out to make your life hell. They actually don’t hate you. They’re simply people with a job, people making subjective decisions on what they like and they don’t like, and what they hope will sell.

3)calvin and hobbs      Confess fears and failures to trusted friends or family or your pet. It’s ok to have fear. It’s ok to fail. It’s not ok to let either of those get in the way of being a writer. Confession eases the burden on the soul.

4)      Continue to take a look at what you do well and what we don’t do well. Work on the latter. Improving is NEVER a bad thing. But also celebrate the good. Too often we focus only on the negative, that which we cannot do.

5)      Admit to everyone that you are a writer, published or not. It’s ok. You’ll be surprised how often you’re not judged harshly (laughed at, sometimes, but then we shouldn’t be taking ourselves that seriously anyway.) By admitting to others, you’re also admitting to yourself that this is an important aspect of your life. Like donuts. Or Game of Thrones.

6)      Understand there is a difference between hearing criticism about your writing and hearing criticism about being a writer. Ignore anyone who challenges the latter and listen to anyone who’s willing to help you become better at your craft.

7)      Remove that which does not work. Also called, killing your darlings. Ok, so you wrote the world’s greatest sex scene, (I know I always do), but it doesn’t quite fit into your book for 10 year old girls about unicorns…so throw it out. Or keep it for that book you’re writing about Highlanders. Don’t be afraid to toss something away. Hey, if it’s not working, it’s not working. You can always write more words. It’s what writer’s do. It’s not a waste of time. It’s practice.

8)      Read good writers. Don’t read a book that’ll drive you nuts cuz of all the grammatical errors or shallow characters or stunningly bad plots. By bathing in the words of well-written books, we soak up the craft.

9)    Don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Oh, how I should have this tattooed on my body somewhere. No writing will ever be perfect. You can always move a comma or change a word here and there. But at some point, that quest for the perfect sentence, perfect paragraph, perfect chapter gets in the way of actually completing something.

10)   Realize that it’s hard on the people around you. They make sacrifices, too. Someone put the kids to bed, someone cooked supper, someone went to work, someone hugged you when you got your 20th rejection. All so you could write. I mean, hey, that’s pretty cool, but that support and love needs to be acknowledged.

I know there are other survival tips. I would love to hear them.

So, all told, the meeting went well. I loved the feedback and my story will be that much better for it. Back to writing the book.



6 thoughts on “10 steps to surviving being a writer

  1. I don’t actually like her writing, but Margaret Atwood had a very good list of ten rules for fiction writers:

    1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

    2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

    3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

    4 If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

    5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

    6 Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

    7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

    8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

    9 Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

    10 Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

  2. Read books, not so much about the “how-to” of writing, but the Zen of it. The mystical part that everybody tries to explain and nobody really gets right (except they do, in a roundabout way). Things like Bird by Bird, Writing Down the Bones, The Writing Life, Becoming a Writer, The Art of War for Writers, The War of Art (this is an AMAZING book, and is short, to the point, and taken no bullshit or prisoners.) Let them inspire you. When you can’t connect with other writers in person, these will help fill the gap. If a book about writing makes your fingers itch to write, regardless of whether its about writing or not, then buy it, keep it and reread it frequently.

  3. Four top practical tips:

    1. Writing is mentally demanding. If at 2pm your eyes feel like closing then let them close for 20 mins with a power nap. Think of it as recharging your brain CPU.

    2. Drawing out your muse is like extracting a shy panda from a cave. Find a state of relaxed boredom and your muse will soon surface looking for things to do.

    3. Find a story buddy and give them a 5 minute overview of your plot. Listen to their reaction. Great means great. Anything else doesn’t mean great. If necessary repeat with changes until things become great.

    4. If you’re stale and worded out watch a Hugh Grant rom com movie. It will take you back to the 90s for 2 hours. Then you’ll come back to 2014 feeling fresh and inspired again.

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