Five Writing Tips I’m Carrying into 2019

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It’s a new year, and I for one am glad it’s over. Whew. This last year has been a wild ride for me. I am constantly amazed by how much of writing is a balancing act. I published over twenty-five separate works of writing in 2018, from poetry to fiction to essays. I put out my first-ever chapbook of words and images, Glimmerglass Girl. I launched a small indie SFF press. I met friends, took on new editing clients, and made new connections.

Yet somehow, I still feel like I’m always learning. Maybe that’s the thing about writing — maybe you never really finish improving. I’ve noticed this when I’m trying to revise a project. There comes a point where you just have to submit it already.

And 2018 was a year that I learned to do just that — take the risk. Here are the five things I’m carrying with me into 2019:

1. Know, Don’t Show

“Creativity requires a certain level of basic knowledge about the world so that you can see connections between (apparently) unconnected things and craft variations that are genuinely new — the more you know about the world, the more raw material you have to work with.” — Ken Liu

I first heard this concept at a conference, and it’s probably not new to everyone reading this, but for me it was revelatory. I write a lot of fantasy and speculative works and this year I coined the concept of “Anti-worldbuilding.” It means telling the story of a world through the eyes of character and action. It also means you don’t have to spend time making a wiki for your work — you let the world build naturally.

2. Bring Your Best Bet to the Table

“It’s a weird, cyclical business, and you have to hang on through the ups and downs. You never know when something is going to hit, or crash. You have to see editors and publishers as gamblers betting on horses. You’re the horse. What odd are you bringing to the table?” — Kameron Hurley

My chapbook was a long time coming. I obsessed over the idea of putting out my first longer work. Would it sell well? Would I meet my preorder goal? Would anyone really want to read it? But what I didn’t realize is that I was missing the point. Glimmerglass Girl was my best bet this year. In 2019, I will probably have a new pony to show off. That’s the nature of writing — it’s cyclical and you go with what you have that’s best at the moment. There will always be more books, more stories, more poems.

Live in the now, and let your work live in the now.

3. Trust Your Intuition

“When I’m drafting, I suppose it’s an intuitive process — figuring out when something just has a surreal glaze on it and when it grapples with something that could threaten a character’s day-to-day reality.” — Karen Russell

A few times this year, I had an editor reach out to me on a submission and ask me to rewrite it. 2018 was the year I learned to say no to these requests. I know, you’re probably thinking this is silly. But my experience has taught me that if I don’t feel an editor knows my work well or understands it, doing a rewrite isn’t going to make them “get” it.

There’ve been a lot of times this year where I had a weird feeling and followed it, and that made all the difference, as they say. I’m grateful to say this whole learning to trust yourself thing is probably still in action, and thank goodness.

4. Write Your True Experience

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

When I was writing my chapbook, I knew I wanted to focus on women’s experiences. But at one point, I froze. How could I tell a woman’s story when I am just one person? This is why I wrote a small foreword to my chapbook, explaining that my experiences are not those of every woman.

You can only write from your own wonderful mind, from your lived experiences, from your imagination, from the world you create for yourself. You’ll never please every reader and that’s fine.

5. Persistence, Persistence, Persistence

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. It’s just so easy to give up!” — Octavia Butler

I can’t tell you the number of times this year I thought about giving up. I wondered if I’d made the right choice to do this writing thing. I wondered whether I was publishing enough, or marketing myself enough, or just doing enough to be successful. But the secret to writing isn’t that simple. Sticking around, not throwing away your shot, and being present is so much more important than being perfect.


Originally published on hlwalrath.com.