Growing as a Writer

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What advice that you’ve received do you wish you’d ignored. Lori Roleveld.

Aaron: This is a good question. I suppose I’d have to say “only write when you’re inspired.” We’ve already discussed how this can be a trap, and an easy way to cop out of fulfilling your responsibilities and duties as a writer. A better way to say this is, “Be inspired every day–and thereby write every day.”

Al: I seldom listen to advice. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. That has protected me over the years; it has also hamstrung me many times. Early on I learned the best advice comes from those who have successfully done what I want to do, not those who have just paddled around in the shallows. I have heard some weird advice: “You manuscript must be written in Courier type.” No it doesn’t (unless you’re writing a screenplay). “Semicolons knock people out of the story.” I doubt that very much. Most people don’t even notice them. “Never begin a novel with a prologue.” Nonsense. Properly used a prologue is a powerful element in a novel.

MJ: There really isn’t anything. I’ve learned from accepting bad advice, I’ve learned to ignore bad advice. It all goes toward making me a better writer.

Growing as a Writer

There are several ways to grow as a writer:

  • Free yourself to be creative. This means…
    • Allow the dreams to flow.
    • Be the writer that is you, not the writer someone else is.
    • Allow ideas to flow. Not every idea has to be great. It’s good to have something to throw away. It builds creative muscle.
    • Acknowledge that creativity can be tough, confusing, ill-mannered, and misleading. You are a lion tamer.
    • Creativity is emotionally expensive. Determine it is worth the price.
    • Don’t seek perfection in the beginning; find it in the end.
    • Allow yourself some mistakes.
    • Old writer’s saying, “Compose drunk; edit sober.” (Get drunk on the idea.)
    • For me, this is in line with “just write the darn thing!” Allowing yourself to brainstorm and just keep typing instead of revising has turned into some great material. It allows for “What if’s.”
    • Along the “What if’s” question, I find a change of perspective is good. I’ll take myself to dinner or coffee and observe then ask, “What would my character or characters do in this setting or this situation?” Even if I don’t write it down, it’s in my head, allowing those creative juices to flow and energize.
  • Be consistent:
    • Set a schedule and keep it.
    • Write even when you don’t feel like it. Feelings have nothing to do with discipline in the arts.
    • Prioritize your writing.
    • Al’s Axiom #9: You may quit if you want. Quit often if need be, but always remember that you can’t “stay quit.”
  • Never stop learning.
    • Read, read, read. What do you say to people who say “I’m too busy writing to read?”
    • Ruin your reading. Every book is a seminar in what to do, and sometimes, what not to do.
    • Study the masters, not only in your genre, but outside of it as well.
    • Consume craft books (see previous podcasts for lists of good ones to read). Yes! Anne Lamott and Flannery O’Connor have changed my perspective/writing/dedication to the craft. Wonderful!
    • Continue your education–pursue a degree in the art. And if you can’t afford that, find a way to get the education like become really good friends with someone who graduated from Antioch with an MFA, or adopt people into your life who are prolific and successful authors.
    • Listen to podcasts about writing.
    • Go to conferences and/or join professional writers groups.
    • Read writing magazines. Consider Great Courses and other home education programs.
  • Create a support group
    • Get some friends and family to keep you accountable and to encourage you in your pursuits. This is especially easy with social media. Build a Facebook group and update it regularly, invite your Swarm to join and participate. The more, the merrier.
    • Determine not to lose heart. If writing for publication were easy, everyone would be doing it.
  • Submit.
    • Make a habit of sending your stuff out.
      • I’ve taught at and led many, many writers conferences and every year the faculty tell me that they’ll request a proposal or manuscript from a conferee but that less than 10% will follow through. BE BOLD. Could your work be rejected? Of course it could. It might also be accepted. Al’s Axion #6: “No one ever hit a homerun from the dugout.”
    • Keep track of submissions, rejections, and acceptances.
      • This is especially true for short fiction.
    • Research the best places for you to submit.
      • This requires research. Research is as much a part of writing as, well, writing. True, if you get an agent, they’ll decide who to send it to, but you need still need to be aware. If you’re writing short fiction, then research is paramount. Who publishes the kind of stuff you write.

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