I get emails and messages from aspiring writers all the time asking me for the one thing they should know, or the one thing they should do, in order to be a successful writer. Well, there’s never just “one thing,” but I’ve taken all my very best writing advice and distilled it down into five things that will help any aspiring writer along on their way to success.
Stop Trying to Control Everything
This is a big one. Writers are anxious people and we like control. It makes us feel safe and like we can anticipate the problems lying in wait for us and come up with solutions for them before they’ve even come to pass. But no matter how much we plan things out in our head, we can’t predict the future, and we definitely can’t predict the exact details of how our creative work will turn out once it’s out of our heads and down on the page.
The best thing you can do for yourself is let go. Don’t be so attached to your outline, the order in which you write your story, how you think your characters should act, and whether or not you’re hitting every point of the Hero’s Journey. Those things are fun to play around with and they can be helpful, but don’t try to use them as control mechanisms to the point where you strangle your story.
Today’s guest post comes from Ritu Kaushal, the author of the memoir The Empath’s Journey, which TEDx speaker Andy Mort calls “a fascinating insight into the life of a highly sensitive person and emotional empath.” Ritu was recently awarded the silver medal at the prestigious REX awards, instituted by the United Nations & iCONGO in India, and given to people creating social impact through their work. Ritu writes about highly sensitive creatives on her blog Walking Through Transitions. Her work has been featured on Sensitive Evolution, Tiny Buddha, and Elephant Journal, amongst others.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones.
But words will never hurt me.”
When I was younger, I used to think this rhyme was true. At the very least, I thought I “should” try to live up to it. I “should” try to not let people’s words affect me, not let their jagged edges leave me cut and bleeding. After all, they were just words.
But the older I get, the more I think the opposite is true.
It’s easier for many of us to heal more quickly from physical wounds than to separate ourselves from the sting of words. Words dissolve quickly. They are amorphous. We don’t often acknowledge their power and, so, negative words can worm their way into our hearts. They can even cause us to turn against ourselves.
As a writer, every day, I become more and more conscious of the power of words. Words can heal, and words can break.
I got an email from a writer the other day who had questions about writing rituals. I’ve talked to a good many writers who have these same questions, and of course, I’ve also seen many of the articles out there on the writing routines and habits of famous writers. We writers seem to have a fascination with how other writers work. We want to know what their desk looks like and if it includes a view, what time they start working in the morning or afternoon, and if they do anything “special” to make the words flow.
This fascination we have with the work process (not the creative process, that’s something different, but the actual nuts-and-bolts procedure of another writer sitting down to work), this has always intrigued me. Why do we place such importance on the rituals other writers have in place around their work process? Why are we so hungry for these details?
When I first started writing, I couldn’t even call myself a writer. I had been NOT writing for seven years before I joined a silent writing program that I went to once a week to sit down and scrawl out a mess of pages that seemed to be all over the place, and which I had no hope of ever turning into anything good.
The other people there, in my eyes, were real writers. They had plans. They were finishing their memoirs, looking for agents, querying, seeking critique and feedback, swapping manuscripts. Me…I was just off by myself in the corner, too shy to talk to the group and too terrified to show anyone the pages I worked on so slowly and tortuously. Writing was hard for me, and it didn’t seem to be that hard for anyone else. I lived in constant doubt that this observation of mine proved I wasn’t cut out to be a writer.
Although I have always considered myself a writer, I have also spent many years not writing. In fact, for most of high school, college, and my 20s, I didn’t write at all. Not one story, not one poem. During that period, I was mostly entangled in living the life of a depressed alcoholic, while trying to keep my shit somewhat together in the meantime. So, you could say I didn’t have time to write, but the truth was that I was really in no place to write.
I didn’t start writing seriously—and by seriously I mean that I committed to sitting down and doing it at least once a week—until 2006, one year after I got sober. Two things happened when I committed to the practice of writing. Number one, I found that it was hard. It challenged me on nearly every level and forced me to look honestly at my addictions, my demons, my self-loathing, and my depression. Number two, it felt better than anything I had ever done before. It felt like a huge relief to open doors within myself that had been closed for years and let all those long-buried thoughts and feelings pour out of me onto the page.