Many writers tell me they struggle with these three things:
Admitting they want to be a writer.
Showing anyone their writing.
Writing anything at all.
Why is this so hard for writers? I mean, it’s not like you meet accountants who say, “For years I wanted to do other people’s taxes but I didn’t think I was good enough. I kept a calculator hidden away in my drawer and looked at longingly every now and then.”
It’s because writing is a calling. There’s a difference between a job and a calling.
When you are called to do something in life part of the agreement is that you follow your path in your own unique way. That means that guides, books, classes, teachers and mentors, are only going to help you along so far. The rest is up to you. It’s up to you to discover the way you write best, the voice you write in, and your message behind it all.
This process of discovery can get overwhelming. When you’re tired, or discouraged, or having a bad day, it’s so tempting to look at other writers or someone else’s career, and start to believe that you should be doing it like they are, or that there is something wrong with the way you’re doing things. This perspective is absolutely inaccurate, and it’s also not helpful.
To set yourself up for success in your writing, begin with the very basics and go from there.
Prime the Pump
Your brain is at its very best usually around the same time each day. For instance, if you’re at your most alert and optimistic between 9am and noon then protect these hours. Devote them solely to your writing. Or if you’re a night owl, try to leave your evenings as free as possible so you can sit down and work.
If you’re a writer who doesn’t have that kind of leeway with your schedule and can only fit writing in on the run, then sit for five minutes to clear your mind and re-center before you start writing. Have a small high-protein snack like some trail mix or an avocado to feed your brain and take a few deep breaths. Many writers have highly sensitive nervous systems; taking care of your body can go a long way toward feeding your creative flame.
Assess Your Personality
Even if you don’t care at all about the particulars of your psychological makeup, it’s still helpful to determine which side of the fence you fall on in one important area: Do you work better with Intuition or Logic? It doesn’t have to be one at the expense of the other. It comes down to type of writer you are and which works the best for you.
If you lean heavily toward intuition, plotting your novel to adhere to a preconceived outline is not going to work for you. You’ll feel constricted and repressed, and then you’ll explode and rebel by scrapping the whole project. If your brain uses logic as its natural course and you try to spontaneously free-flow your whole book with no plan, you’ll feel utterly lost and frustrated. And if you fall squarely in the middle, you’ll need some planning, and also some room to run with your story in order to feel satisfied in your creative process. Nail down what it is that works best for you.
Let Go of Creative Expectations
I’m lucky enough to have an extremely talented fantasy writer in my weekly writing group. Every time I read her newest work I’m in awe of her stories. Her characters kick down doors, commandeer spaceships, and fight ninja-style duels-to-the-death—and they do this stuff all the time. In contrast, the characters in my stories do very little. They sit on tree stumps and think a whole lot. Or they meet for coffee and talk about records. It took me a long time to accept my characters and stories for what they are, instead of trying to make them into something else.
You might be writing a story you didn’t expect to come out of you, or characters you feel weird about. It might feel like too much is happening, or not enough. That’s totally okay. In the writing stage, concentrate only on writing it all down. Later, when you’re editing, you can truly determine what needs to be added and what can be cut. Always keep the writing vs. editing separate, even if you’re sticking to an outlined plan.
Influence is Invaluable
One writer told me he feels like his work is unoriginal because he is so heavily influenced by classic science fiction authors and movies like Star Wars. I told him that he was worrying for nothing, because no matter what you do as a writer you cannot rinse the YOU out of your writing.
For instance, look at David Lynch’s movies. He’s an artist very heavily influenced by 1950s doo-wop culture. You can hear it in the music in his movies, and see it in the imagery of his characters, in the way they dress and their hair. You can even see it in the iconic diner of Twin Peaks. But no one would ever say David Lynch is “copying” the rock n’ roll vibe of the 50s. His work has too much Lynch in it to be anything other than what it is—totally original. If you’re honestly writing down something that’s dancing around in your head, then it’s yours and there’s no getting around it.
Writing is an emotional journey, which means it’s ongoing and messy, and you’ll be discovering and learning new things about yourself all the time. Resist the temptation to compare and judge yourself against other writers. Keep your eyes on your own next step and what you, personally, need to continue moving through the pages.
And keep in mind: If you’re writing on a regular basis then you already are a success.