Forty things I’ve learned about writing in forty years

One more: When you can, let your children play in your office while you work.

One more: When you can, let your children play in your office while you work.

It’s one of those quiet mornings when I should be hard at work and, instead, I’m musing on the upcoming week while my toddler plays in my office. I realize I have a lot to be grateful for. Sharing my thoughts about some of the things I’ve learned about writing these past forty years is just one way to celebrate.

  1. Good writing isn’t always meant to be shared. Sometimes it’s best to hold it inside, let it age, savor it.
  2. If you share your fiction writing with the people closest to you, remember their opinions might be biased.
  3. If you truly love writing, you’ll be willing to endure all forms of humiliation to see your work in print.
  4. Keep a notebook with you. Write down ‘story sparkers’ as they come to you.
  5. Also write down incongruent ideas–adjectives and adverbs and verbs and nouns that usually don’t go together. Sometimes these things lead to surprising metaphors that can enrich your writing.
  6. If you’re taking notes for an article, make sure you transcribe your notes right away…either that, or have impeccable handwriting.
  7. Never share your personal opinions in the middle of an interview for an article. Before is fine; after is fine. Never in the middle.
  8. Read poetry with your children. They might grow up with a desire to write.
  9. Thank your mother for reading poetry to you. Share your own poetry with her.
  10. Find a hobby outside of writing, and enjoy it regularly.
  11. Look up and smile when your children enter the room. Otherwise, they might think you love writing more than you love them.
  12. Always check your facts.
  13. Eat breakfast and tidy your house before you turn on the computer.
  14. When you’re trying to write seriously, do all you can to avoid the telephone and internet.
  15. Have a few friends that love to write as much as you do. Laugh with them, learn with them, treasure them.
  16. Keep your office clean.
  17. Writing is sometimes a good excuse to stay up too late, but you shouldn’t make a habit of it if you want to get right back into writing early the next day.
  18. Don’t eat at your desk.
  19. Don’t try to edit something during a road trip.
  20. Keep a notebook or file with all the nice things people have said about your writing to encourage you on rough writing days.
  21. Remember–writing isn’t a competition. Not with anyone. Do all you can do to help other writers succeed, whether or not you succeed yourself, and you will find joy in the journey.
  22. Don’t take on more work than you can handle.
  23. Ask your sweetheart and children how much work they think you can handle. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in multiple writing projects that you forget you have limits. Your family provides a great system for keeping your schedule in check and your life balanced.
  24. Take time to daydream every day. Good fiction starts here.
  25. Read something uplifting and get some exercise every day.
  26. Learn all you can, all the time. Learn about EVERYTHING.
  27. Join a writer’s group.
  28. If it’s possible, keep up with technology. You never know when you’re going to need to use it for an online interview, or to gather illustrations, or simply to talk about it intelligently as a springboard for an article on another topic.
  29.  Read books about writing.
  30. When you’ve finished a project, set it aside for as long as you can before you begin to edit it. You’ll go back to it with a more objective eye.
  31. Always be cordial and friendly in your e-mail and other online messages, especially when you’re trying to set up an interview or get photos to accompany your article.
  32. When someone says something nice about your writing, pay it forward AND backward. This helps circulate good feelings and happy writing ideas.
  33. Respect yourself enough to refuse work that makes you feel downgraded, used or invaluable. (This includes editing and ghost-writing for free. Equitable trades are fine, though.)
  34. Have a list of referrals for other writers ready in case you can’t or don’t want to take on a certain job. The editors I’ve used this with seem to remember it as good will. It also shows you’re a team player with a vibrant network of writing friends.
  35. Whether or not it happens, it’s okay to dream about being a bestseller.
  36. Take a personal inventory regularly. Are you already ‘living the dream?’ I may never be rich, but most of the time, I think ‘living the dream’ and simply being able to write go hand in hand.
  37. Try new forms of writing, new genres, writing contests and more. Variety in writing keeps it fun.
  38. Visit the local libraries often, but make sure you turn your books in on time. Visit book stores, too, especially if your children are with you. Sweet memories can be built in libraries and book stores.
  39. Do all you can to meet your deadlines.
  40. Even writing doesn’t replace family, friends and other rich human interactions. Keep your priorities straight.
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20 Comments to “Forty things I’ve learned about writing in forty years”

  1. Very good advice. I can’t follow 18 because my ‘desk’ is the dining room table. This definitely beats my list where I’ve only learned one thing:

    1. Never answer ‘what are your goals’ in a job interview with ‘I’m going to be a successful author’. Nobody ever takes that seriously. :) Best to let that be a surprise for when you quit because your book is making enough money to pay the bills.

    Like

    • Hahahaha! I’m sure you’re right on that one! :)

      Like

      • I’ll admit that I did it once for a job that I didn’t really want. It was a horrible interview where one person sat in front of me and another behind, so I felt trapped and they could gauge my ability to handle stress. I proudly declared my fantasy author dream and found ways to include it in every answer. :) It was so worth seeing two stuffy people lose their composure.

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    • Thanks for reblogging!

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Legends of Windemere and commented:
    I think this is a great post for all aspiring/beginning authors.

    Like

  3. Clean house first! What a horrible thing to say. That’s the only thing I can’t use as a basis for procrastination. I can see where the house clutter might translate to mind clutter. Maybe I’ll try it once.

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    • I have to admit–I’m not perfect on this one! :) But I am more productive when the house is clean (enough) and I enjoy everything more.

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  4. Really good post, enjoyed it.

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  5. I love how this is a blend of advice for fiction and nonfiction writers, especially because it’s true that we should try all different forms of writing. The third one made me smile – sometimes blogging feels a bit like that. :)

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  6. Great wisdom in these words, thanks for sharing! :)

    Like

  7. Thank you for posting this list. Over the last couple of years I’ve had to learn some of these items the hard way. Others I did not even think of.

    Chris Hall
    The Adventures of Jaydon and Daddy

    http://JaydonAndDaddy.com

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  8. great post… good advised for a myriad of professions.

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  9. Excellent list! I love # 13, but have a difficult time with #18 :)

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  10. It’s amazing how many people don’t follow #40 and take the old saying of “If you want to be a writer, write!” too seriously.

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    • Yes. What point is there to writing if you chase everyone away and then don’t have anyone to share it with? So much better to be balanced!

      Wishing you a wonderful day!

      Like

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