Recently, I came across an interesting article on the website of K.M. Weiland, author of both fiction and non-fiction, including several how-to books on writing and editing. A Nebraska native, like myself, she offers some sound advice to beginning / returning writers that, on the surface, may seem redimentary, but valuable to those who haven't considered the obvious:
How Not to Be a Writer: 15 Signs You’re Doing It Wrong
Ever wonder if you’re doing this whole writing thing wrong? We have a bad writing session. The words are all glomming up in the back of our minds and refusing to flow across the page. Our editor hits us with a tough critique, in which he offers the humble suggestion that we change, well, pretty much everything about our story. Someone reads our story and, instead of laughing and crying in all the right places, his best response is a half-hearted, “Meh.”
In the face of evidence like that, it sure doesn’t seem like we’re quite acing the How-to-Be-a-Writer checklist. Maybe we’d do better on a How-Not-to-Be-a-Writer checklist.
Let’s take a look at fifteen sure signs that maybe we really are acting more like non-writers than writers—and how to remedy that.
1. You’re trying to be the next Janet Evanovich/J.K. Rowling/G.R.R. Martin.
If we’re investing all our energy and hopes in surpassing some of the biggest names in the industry, we’re focusing on the wrong thing. Worse, if we’re trying to imitate great authors’ styles in hopes of one day mimicking their success, we’re dead in the water before we even start paddling.
2. Your time is better spent on activities other than reading.
First, if you don’t love reading so much you can’t stay away from it, you’ve probably signed the wrong job application. Second, if you aren’t absorbing storycraft through every pore, you’re missing your most important opportunity to better your understanding of what it takes to write an amazing story.
3. You’re obsessed with following The Rules.
The Rules may be very important guidelines, but writing is about so much more than that. Don’t get so hung up on The Rules that you lose touch with your own guiding story sense.
4. You’re protecting your originality by avoiding instruction on the craft.
The techniques of writing and the theories of storytelling are so much bigger than anything we can realize all on our own. The more we study our craft, the better our art will be—and the sharper our ability to create original material.
5. You change your writing process every time an expert suggests something new.
Writing experts may know a lot, but they don’t always know what’s right for you. We all have to find the processes that best suit our personalities and lifestyles, and once we find them, we need to stick with them.
6. Your genius doesn’t need to be critiqued.
The worst mistake any writer can make is that of claiming a genius that, ahem, doesn’t really exist. Much better to assume you’re less skilled than you really are, so you’ll then be able to ask for (and accept) the help you need to improve.
7. Your tender ego can’t bear to be critiqued.
Yeah, critiques hurt. Sometimes they’re about as much fun as a hug from the Iron Maiden. But delicate writers die. Only the strong survive and, more importantly, write better stories.
8. You believe everything everyone tells you about your story.
Joe over here says your main character is awesome. Lucinda says your ending is a stinkfest. Angus likes your ending but hates your main character. Don’t believe all of them—or even any of them. Weigh their opinions for exactly what they’re worth and make up your own mind.
9. You spend more time checking your email than working on your manuscript.
Procrastination is a parasite. Most of us struggle with it from time to time. But if we’re going to be writers, we must learn to purge it and gain the discipline to focus on what really matters—our writing.
10. You start ten stories for every one you finish.
Sooner or later, every story gets tough, and when it does, we become vulnerable to the lure of shiny new ideas. But writers finish stories. Cultivate discipline and force yourself to bring at least eight out of ten manuscripts to an end.
11. You don’t believe you’re really a writer until you get something published/you’re a bestseller/you get a movie deal/Stephen King blurbs your book.
Writing is not about glory. It is not about acclaim. It’s not about being published. Writing is about writing. Enjoy the journey, do your best, and let the chips fall where they may. You’ll be much happier for it—and your stories will probably be all the better.
12. You’re only writing a book in order to sell a gazillion copies, quit your day job, and retire to the Bahamas.
The other thing writing is not about is money. If you’re very, very lucky, you’ll get to quit your day job. But, honestly, just forget about the rest of it and focus on more productive and probable dreams—like winning the Powerball.
13. You talk about your story more than you write about it.
Talking isn’t writing. Talking won’t get that manuscript finished (see Sign #10). There’s nothing wrong with sharing a little of your story-fueled enthusiasm with friends and family, but for every time you mention your story in conversation, you’d better have written a least a page in your manuscript.
14. You only write when you’re inspired.
Inspiration is like a very cute puppy dog. You can’t depend on it worth beans. And you sure as heck don’t want it being the master. You have to leash it, take charge of it, and train it. And sometimes that means sitting down to write even when it may appear that inspiration had stood you up.
15. You’re not writing.
Writers write. Bottom line.