10 Things About Writing I Wish I Knew 10 Years Ago
1) Be patient. When I was 23 I always felt this absurd need to draft quickly, edit very little, and send out the piece immediately. Just because you finished a 3,000 word story doesn’t mean you should submit it to the New Yorker an hour later. The time away from a piece of writing is time spent on the piece of writing.
2) It’s okay to not be writing. Guilt can be a motivator, sure, but when that guilt is clouding your story and ideas and generally fucking with you in a way that pushes you to write badly, it’s time to stop. I’m all for working hard and pushing through, but learn to forgive yourself and walk away sometimes. I once went an entire year without writing and it felt good.
3) Listen to editors who reject your work. Seems easy to just read a rejection and think, “fuck them.” You can say that, and you probably will, but maybe actually take to heart what they say. The advice on why your piece wasn’t accepted may not click with you, but if an editor is taking the time to say why it doesn’t work, listen. Staple it to your wall. You’re going to collect a mountain of form rejections and no responses. Editors who take the time to respond, to critique, are saints.
4) Don’t set a writing schedule. Put down words when you want to. If that’s all day, then do it. If it’s ten minutes, great. If you treat your writing like an office day job it’s going to start feeling that way.
5) You’re not Bukowski, or Hemingway, or David Foster Wallace. You won’t understand this now, but early on, you’ll go through a phase of imitation. It’s okay. That idolization will start to flake away and your personality/style will come through, eventually. I spent a good two years as a middle class white kid living in my parents basement thinking I was similar to Bukowski, which is disgusting.
6) No writer knows what they are doing. We are literally taking symbols and forming things called sentences into things called paragraphs into things called stories into things called novels. One day someone will give you a one star review on Amazon because of your poor character development and plot pacing.
7) Don’t isolate yourself. This one seems tricky because most likely you’ll spend a good chunk of your day reading and writing and thinking about writers and reading interviews and all that. It’s good to absorb everything, and if you really love writing, you’ll be obsessed. But please, get outside. And this doesn’t mean going to a reading. And it doesn’t mean jogging alone. Call your family. Go out for drinks and don’t say a word about your novels word count.
8) Take care of your body. I’m still a skinny fuck with a little belly and very little upper body strength, but I watch what I eat and exercise now. Just because you go to the gym doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bro. Besides, people will find you less annoying if you don’t look like a stereotypical writer. Hey, I did twenty push-ups between this number and the last.
9) Stay humble. No matter what you write, who you publish with, what agent said they were interested in you, stay small and never stop being curious.
10) Write what you don’t know.
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