So…it’s really weird being asked to give writing advice. I instantly want to say this…
Fun fact: Nearly every writer I know (myself included) deals with imposter syndrome. Sadly, that does not mean we buy ridiculous outfits from thrift shops and pretend to be the reigning monarch of Khazibekustanzia. It means that we stare at the laptop screen and wait to read an email that says…
Most writers spend most of their time thinking that they mostly suck at writing.
We tend to believe that everyone else has it figured out and that at some point (if we can just crack the NYT bestseller list!) then we’ll also feel like extra special unicorns. Except it doesn’t actually work that way. We just go right on doubting ourselves.
So why am I sharing this? It’s not, y’know…inspirational.
Except…it kind of is.
Hear me out, okay?
See, young aspiring authors tend to tell me that they’re scared to write a novel because they don’t think it will be all that great. It might even suck. Then they would have to admit that maybe they aren’t cut out for a career in publishing and…
Every. Published. Author. Feels. This. Way.
I’m not kidding.
But if we hadn’t forced ourselves to sit down and write–even when it sounded stilted and awkward and awful and repetitive and…you get my point–then we’d still be exactly where you are now.
So here is the advice that I in no way feel qualified to give you:
If you want to write…then do it. Don’t sit around waiting for someone else to tell you that you should. Most people aren’t all that encouraging of a career in the arts. Don’t let that stop you from telling the story that you love.
2. Write for yourself.
Don’t write for a bestseller list. Don’t write a dragon-unicorn-zombie love triangle because you think it’s going to be the next big thing. I like to remind my friends that if the writing doesn’t make you crazy, the publishing industry will. Chasing a popular trend will only exacerbate that by a billion.
3. Accept that not everyone will like what you’ve written.
Rejection is a huge part of this industry. I have some tremendously talented friends who have written heart-breakingly brilliant books…and they’ve been rejected by publishers. It’s not just publishers who will do the rejecting either. Everyone is a critic. This includes family, friends, teachers, and mentors. The trick is to find a select few people who can appreciate your writing style. If someone tries to make you sound like somebody else, ignore everything they tell you.
You might not want to say this out-loud though…
4. Try to accept what you have written.
It doesn’t have to be The Greatest Novel In The History of Novels. A dragon-unicorn-zombie love triangle doesn’t have to be a metaphor for anything.
And yeah, it might suck. You might want to bash your head against a keyboard when you so much as think about that stupid book. That’s okay too. This isn’t baseball. An umpire isn’t going to yell, “You’re out!” if you write three less-than-stellar manuscripts. Nobody can bench you from writing except yourself.
5. Edit your work.
Let me be clear: YOU need to edit your work. Don’t just hand it off to a parent/teacher/friend/agent/paid consultant because you’re bored and editing is the worst. Nobody knows your book the way that you do. They can’t. Which is why you need to let your inner critic go to town before you hand it over to anyone.
6. Make friends within the writing community.
Not everyone understands our desire to spend time with people who don’t technically exist. So it’s incredibly liberating when you find someone who doesn’t find it weird that you want to know how to, oh I dunno, get away with muuuurder!
It’s okay to form this community online. We’re a really nice group of weirdos.
I haven’t so much as high-fived some of my very best friends. What can I say? A bunch of them live on the opposite side of the country, which means getting together for coffee isn’t easy. Typing instead of talking in no way invalidates our friendship. In fact, I highly recommend following your favorite authors on Twitter. Authors tend to post fascinating articles on a whole range of subjects, especially on gender, race, sexuality, and psychology. It’s an easy way to find out more about the writing industry and to engage with people you admire.
7. Please, please protect your mental/emotional well-being.
Mental health should not be taken for granted. Ever. Studies from Sweden have shown that writers have up to a 50% higher chance of suicide than non-writer people. (I learned this from Natalie Whipples’ blog. She wrote an amazing set of writing tips that you should definitely check out here!) I admit, I worry the most about teenage writers for the simple reason that high school creates a false sense of competition. The “best” in the class is the person who hands in assignments to a teacher’s liking. The “best” in the school is most likely to be the person who does well on standardized tests.
These things have absolutely no bearing on the publishing world, yet it is incredibly hard not to cling to them when adults in positions of authority insist that grades/exams/essays will determine your college path, and thereby, your future.
What makes this situation so dangerous? When there is no one specific person you have to please, it’s easy to feel lost. It can also make some people strike out in an attempt to recreate a sense of hierarchy. How can you write a romance if you’ve never had one? What makes your work different from alllll the other dystopian/fantasy/mystery, etc. books out there? Why would anyone want to read that?!?
If someone says stuff like this to you-–don’t walk, run to the nearest exit.
An essential part of protecting your mental health is maintaining a non-toxic writing environment.
8. Try not to get too far ahead of yourself.
Don’t worry about getting an agent when you are halfway through the project. You have much bigger things on your plate, like creating a satisfying ending. I’ve come to realize that my least favorite part of the writing process tends to be the one I’m in. When I’m writing, I daydream about editing. When I’m editing, I fantasize about publishing contracts. When I’m on submission, I imagine book covers and brilliant ad campaigns. When I’m in promotion mode, I realize that it’s been forever since I wrote more than a blog post and what if I suck at it now?!
One good thing I can say for this writing cycle is that it keeps me motivated. It also helps that I’m only thinking one step ahead. If you haven’t finished writing, don’t start researching agents. You might find someone you think would be a great fit, only to become frustrated with the two-thirds of a novel that still requires an ending, not to mention a boatload of editing.
9. Remember that you’re doing something awesome!
You are creating something entirely from your own mind. It just doesn’t get any cooler than that.
Heck yeah, you can make things levitate!
In fact, you can even make this happen:
So is the stress, frustration, panic, heart-breaking rejection and general emotional turmoil worth it?
Um…in a word?