10 Things I Believe About Writing

With all the uncertainty in our economy and in the publishing industry, in particular, I thought it might be important to talk about the passion we all share. It’s the basic thing that drives us with such conviction. Whether you read books or create them, novels can lift our spirits, tug at our imaginations, make us believe in the impossible, and take us for a journey into the past. (Talk about a cheap vacation!) They dole out justice when it feels as if there’s none and they transcend international borders, making this a small world after all.
If you’re an aspiring author, I believe it’s harder to get noticed by traditional publishers these days, yet with the digital boom in e-books, I feel there is even greater potential for getting discovered in a whole new way that still feeds our addiction. So take heart. Below are my thoughts about writing and what I’ve learned on my journey.
1.      Tell YOUR story, your way. If you have enough drive, you will discover a unique story that you must tell. If you’re lucky, more stories will follow. Ideas for books can be a contagion worth embracing. Since you use your life’s experiences to filter through your characters, scenes and settings, only YOU can tell this story. How cool is that?!
2.      Develop a tough skin. There will always be negative people telling you that you can’t write or reviewers who think you should quit. Screw ‘em. If it matters to you, you will learn from your mistakes and keep doing what’s important to you. And if anyone thinks a book is easy to write, let them try. In fact, please be our guest.
3.      Be picky about your critique buddies. They can be invaluable if you find the right person or group, but too much of a good thing can dilute your voice. Whatever your story, this is your book. You must have a sense of who you are as a writer in order to push back on any advice that doesn’t fit you and only you can be the judge of that.
4.      Find the time to write regularly. Even if it’s only a few hundred words or a page a day, set attainable goals but don’t beat yourself up if life gets in the way. Write because it matters to you.
5.      Focus on the basics. Writing is the only thing you can control. Selling your project, promoting it, dealing with proposals, these things are not in your hands and can become a mental road block. When things get tough, your writing is the backbone of your passion.
6.      Keep writing. While you have a proposal out, don’t wait by the phone or the mailbox. Get on to that next project and learn from your last one. Push the envelope of your craft, because you can. It’s great to find success in a trend, but why not BE the trend?
7.      Trust your talent. As human beings, we all have self-doubt. Some hide it better than others. We all deal with it, but the voice and talent you have shown with each new project will follow you. Trust your ability to tell a story. Your basic talent will sustain you.
8.      Make the words bleed. If the story is worth telling, it’s usually because of the emotion you have to convey. Write what you fear, what you love, what you hate. Man has been telling stories since drawing on cave walls and within those stories has been the thrill of the hunt, the profound sorrow of death, or the joy of good fortune. Emotion connects us all, regardless of any language barrier.
9.      Support other authors. This is your world. Our world. We’re not in competition with each other. We’re up against people who choose video games or movies over books. Make them see how powerful the written word can be, how it triggers the magic of our imaginations. Books are brain food.
10.  Find a way to deal with rejections. They will come, in one fashion or another, whether you’re published or not. Rejection comes in all forms. Create a ritual to dispel the negativity and move on, but if you don’t risk rejection, you’re not getting yourself out there enough. Find a happy balance and keep writing. Not many feel passion for what they do. Count yourself lucky to be one of us, TKZers.
Since we all share the love of books and writing on TKZ, please share any words of wisdom that gets you through the tough times. What keeps you going?

37 thoughts on “10 Things I Believe About Writing

  1. Thanks Jordan!

    10 more pearls for the writer in me.

    I especailly love the one about Trust yourself. It’s so easy to bog down in “No one will want to read this,” but that’s not true!

    My first novel, on submission now, is up for discussion at our local book club next Thursday. The early response from those readers is heady, to say the least.

    They love it.

    If my little “test market” experience is any indicator to the world at large, the fact that I trusted myself, wrote this book my way, and unleased this novel on the world is going to be a very good thing.

    Your pep talk makes me smile!
    Thank you

  2. Excellent list, Jordan. I would add only one thing to #7–to your talent add discipline about learning the craft. I want my doctor to be talented, but I also want him to be trained. A writer needs to keep growing and keep writing.

  3. Terrific list, Jordan. Lots of solid food for thought. I would add to #9 to read. Keep reading. See how others practice their craft. There’s something to learn on every page.

  4. A great list. I agree completely with everything in it.

    What keeps me going? I remind myself why I write: I enjoy it. If I stop enjoying it, I’ll stop writing. I’ve taken the last two summers off to recharge my writing batteries, and by Labor Day I can hardly wait to get started again. As important as routine is, it can’t be allowed to drain the joy from the enterprise.

    When asked if he wrote every day, William Golding said, “I do, when I’m writing.” Everyone needs a little down time.

  5. Great list, and I couldn’t agree more.

    Lawrence Block describes some of writers as “Sunday writers,” those who can’t devote large blocks of time to writing every day. When I miss a day writing, I simply declare that “I’m a Sunday writer, and this isn’t Sunday.” That helps keep me going.

    Since I’m writing this blog comment, I can let that suffice for today’s writing if the day collapses on me. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I find this one very crucial: “Tell your story, your way.” I don’t like to write romance (unfortunately, I’m not writing in the thriller genre–which thankfully seems to have less problems with this) and that is sooooo not popular with publishers/the market.

    But I have to keep pressing on to tell the stories I want to tell because I really do believe that each of us have stories that only we can write.

    We may cover the same general topics and it seems like everything’s been done, but we still have our own unique spin to bring to the table.

    The other thing I believe about writing is that I have to be able to write simply because I desire to do so, not because I desire to be published (even though I do). Writing to me is very hard work–not the kind of thing I could do if all it is is a commercial venture.

    BK Jackson

  7. I’m so excited for you, Paula. Your first submission. Stay busy and keep writing, otherwise the waiting will drive you nuts.

    Glad I could make you smile. we’re all pretty crazy folks, aren’t we?

  8. Great input, Jim. I can’t tell you how many workshops or presentations I sat through to learn ANYTHING on writing. I felt like Sponge Bob, sucking it all in. I’ll add your suggestion to my list, my mantras.

  9. Hey there, Joe. Thanks for your input. YES, reading is ESSENTIAL. And anyone can teach you something if you read with an open mind. Reading is going on my list too.

  10. Hey Dana. As always, I love hearing from you. Writing is so addictive that it’s hard to WANT the time off, but downtime is important to replenish “the well.” I don’t do enough of this, but do agree with you. Another thing, your comment reminded me that it’s important to stop and celebrate our successes, no matter how small we think they are. That reinforces the joy we feel when we write. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Richard, you always make me smile. I love Lawrence Block too. I’d leap over Sunday if that didn’t mean I’d splat up against a damned Monday. Thanks for posting.

  12. BK–LOVE LOVE LOVE what you had to say. And I hear you on the romance thing. My Sweet Justice series is what I consider romantic thrillers, because even though I love the idea of a man and woman battling against evil (with conflicts between them too), I didn’t want the romantic elements too strong that character motivation made no sense. I wanted to write the kind of books that celebrated the tenacity of strong women (and the men who live them), but do it my way. HarperCollins supported me in this, so there are some editors willing to buck the system, but I feel it’s up to authors to push the genres and find the next trend. Sounds like you’re on the right track, BK.

  13. OMG Amanda – You are the online Queen, girl. You’re master level. Hell, that’s how we met, for cryin’ out loud.

    BTW, you guys. Amanda just got some great news. ABC TV optioned her book THE RESTORER. Fingers crossed we get to see her book on the small screen. Awesome writer and from Houston, TX! What’s not to love?!

    Actually, you have a point to be selective about your online time. It can be a real time suck. Now quit bugging me. I’m working here.

  14. I could not tell a story other than my story. Just doesn’t work for me to do otherwise. As far as writing time, that’s something I struggle with. Being an unabashed workaholic I often find my schedule packed and forget to add time to write especially in the summer. Alaska’s warm sunshiny time is too short and too valuable to sit inside in my comfy chair. Sometimes I make it out onto the back patio and write by the fire pit, but invariably end up seeing work that needs to be done in the snow-free yard. Nice thing about having teens still at home is that I can delegate a lot of the work nowadays. For instance today is a perfect 70, blue skies, and gorgeous (I’m sending a pic of the view from my office to my facebook). I don’t think much writing is going to happen with weather like this. I think I hear the sound of golf clubs in the distance…I know where I am going after work.

    But yeah, good list Jordan. Can’t be repeated enough especially for newbies.

  15. A successful writer (so the story goes) when asked what his secrete was, said, “Bun glue.” What is that, said the questioner. “I glue my buns to the chair in front of my computer.” Persistence.

  16. Damn, Basil–Loved your pic of the view out your window. Wow! Memory lane, for me.

    I used to live at the base of the Chugach Mountains in Anchorage for 10 years and those mountains reflect the seasons in such breathtaking ways. They often made me cry, especially after I made the decision to leave for work reasons. I may have left the state, but my heart is still there. I agree about summers in AK. Maybe they should be considered research. Since I still write about Alaska, that’s what I would have called it.

    Thanks for stopping by, bud.

  17. Oh boy, James, I love the “bun glue” thing. I might have to tape that on my ‘puter. I have inspiring phrases on my computer, things that crit partners or other authors have told me that stuck.

    STICK WITH THE ACTION (my old crit partner & author, Dana Taylor. I miss her.)

    BE THERE (James Patterson)

    TRUST THE TALENT (My fav author, Robert Crais)

    WRITE WHAT YOU FEAR (Author Lee Child)

    GET IN, MAKE YOUE POINT, THEN GET THE HELL OUT (Author Robert Gregory Browne)

    BUN GLUE – APPLY LIBERALLY (James Callan – Yeah, you’re getting credit for this. Just sayin’)

  18. Alaska’s not merely a physical place, it’s a spiritual place that sets itself into the soul and can never be removed. I’ve lived in Ohio, DC, and So. Cal but none of those places connected to me like Alaska. And yeah, it is a place that makes writing easy in some senses.

    That being said, here’s another point for your list.

    11. Be in a location that is conducive to writing. Whether it is Bell’s LA, Miller’s South, Gilstrap’s Virginia, my Alaska or wherever, be in a place that you can write about or that sparks your thoughts to write about other places.

  19. Oh…by the way…I did an interview with our very own sexy voiced Kathleen Pickering yesterday that’ll be aired on my radio show tomorrow night, http://www.kbyr.com. The show is from 4-6 AK time (8-10 EST) She’ll be on right after DB Cooper (real one? maybe…) at about 5p AK (9p EST). Give a listen and a shout out for KP.

  20. I never thought I would write a story set in my old hometown of San Antonio, but on a trip back, I saw it with a diff set of eyes. I used it as a character in my debut book NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM. It totally worked and readers told me later that they knew I had local connections because of the way I wrote the diff locales. So much fun.

    But I agree that AK is spiritual and once you connect with it, you’re hooked for life. I had to take my husband there kicking and screaming with a job move of mine, but once we both got there, we absolutely think of it as home–and forever will.

    I’ll have to check out Kathleen’s interview. That should be very cool. She’s a HOOT! And so are YOU.

  21. Jordan, what gets me going is spending time in the company of other writers. For example: YOU! Even if only on blogs.

    Every time you open your mouth (or fill a page) the best wisdom springs forth. This is a great piece of information for newbies and for seasoned writers. Bravo. You make me glad I’m a writer.

  22. PS: Yes, Basil! Thanks so much for the interview. It was great fun hearing your voice, as well, after reading all your posts. You have the perfect voice for audio books. Can’t wait to listen to my first Basil Sands book!

    Again, thanks for the chat. Looking forward to hearing the clip. If of course, DB Cooper doesn’t kidnap you and demand ransom!

  23. I think one of the things that got me was finding time to write and writing even when it’s hard. When I believe I’m writing the worst I ever have, I’ll stop and think, “Who in their right mind word would read this?” But ten minutes later I’m back, trying to scrounge up another hundred “worst” words, telling myself I’ll revise it later even if it takes 562 times.

    Three specific things keep me going. God keeps me going. He gives me strength and the talent. I don’t want to disappoint Him. Being around other writers helps a lot. I love coming to TKZ, swapping projects with friends, and going to conferences! Reading good books help too. And I mean really good books. The kind that I rush through my chores for and the ones that threaten too cut into my writing time(not always a good thing). But when I finish, I’m inspired to write more and can’t stop smiling.

  24. Thanks, I needed that, today more than most days. I’ve finished the self-edit and am preparing to send “my precious” off to the editors. I’m scared to death.

    I know I have an incredible story, worked into a great plot. My only doubt; do I have the skills to “write it out there”. I keep going because the ideas keep coming. Some days when I’m writing, I’m surprised at what in showing up on the screen. Some of it comes from a place so deep inside, I had no idea it was there.

    The characters want their lives to be immortalized, their stories to be told, they want to help others have the courage to grab life and live it to the fullest.

    Yeah, that’s what keeps me going. It is also helping me grow another layer of skin, as I send my baby out into the world to see if she can fly.

  25. You have to take the risk and let your baby fly from the nest. Scary yet thrilling. Good luck, Paradise. Keep writing on a new project. When you sell, the publisher might want more than one book.

  26. This is all great advice, and so necessary in the current publishing climate which is confusing at best and disheartening at the worst. We also have to trust that storytelling will always have a place in people’s hearts even if the format and methods of delivery change.

  27. This is a wonderful list! I’m so glad I found it. The hardest part of writing for me is letting myself be free enough to write a crappy first draft. I want it perfect on the first try, and if I write something that seems to suck, I get discouraged. I’m always having to remind myself that part of writing is learning to accept that freedom–the freedom to suck, the freedom to revise, the freedom to write something and then shove it in a drawer and *not* revise it. Silencing the inner editor/critic is what I struggle with on a daily basis. I should tattoo “Trust yourself” on my forearm.

  28. Thanks for your post, Nancy. I agree story telling has real staying power, despite industry trends. Keeps me hoping for greater potential these days.

  29. Hey, Jenni. Loved the honesty of your comment. We can sometimes be our worst enemy, but I’ve found the writing community so supportive. Keep reaching out. It helps. Best wishes to you.

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