9 Things I Keep In Mind As A Writer

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I’ve probably been writing collectively for about 15-years. Consistently for the last 10–11 years with short stints throughout my youth. Despite this, it probably wasn’t until the last couple of years or so that I started to develop a list of things that help keep me grounded as a writer. I’m sure (and hope) that the list will continue to grow over time but for now here are 9 Things I Keep In Mind…oh yeah, the title is like right above you.

1. Not everything you write must be shared, published, or produced.

It’s okay to write just to write. Too often I get caught up in thinking that everything I put on the page is to be experienced with the world. I used to have those nights of frustration, stressing over the words that weren’t in the perfect arrangement. I had to take a step back and remember that back in college we did a lot of writing that never saw the light of day. It didn’t impede our progress and it definitely was not a waste of time. Relative point: A pro-runner can do a morning jog without it being part of their training regimen.

2. It’s less about being great and more about being good.

This is piggybacking off an excerpt from Steve Martin’s book Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life:

It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.

This isn’t to say I shouldn’t be ambitious and not want to accomplish great things, I just need to keep myself in check and focus on being good first. Once I can do that consistently, I can start pushing the envelope.

3. Creative processes are not iron clad.

It’s okay to change my routine from time to time. Especially if I find myself struggling to be productive, a change of environment and protocol might be good for me. Even minor things (e.g. I can’t start unless I have my coffee) are just that — minor. Sometimes I need to do the work of re-wiring my brain to prevent it from holding myself back.

4. Bad writing is a result of laziness and arrogance.

Even someone who may not have an inherent gift to write exceptional can still write something good if they put in the work. That work of course involves diligent feedback, revisions, rewrites, repeat. The second part, arrogance, prevents me from applying notes to my work that would improve it. Although I am a firm believer that every good writer needs to exercise arrogance early in their development so that they can see how negatively it affects the end result, that arrogance should be kept in check as often as possible.

5. There is no shot clock.

Unless I end up diagnosed with a fatal disease and am given a definitive expiration date, I need to remind myself that it’s okay if I take an extra week finish that draft, chapter, scene, etc. It should go without saying that this doesn’t mean put something off for months without good reason, but I also don’t want to turn my passion into a burden.

6. Don’t let too many cooks in the kitchen.

There’s a time and place to reach out to a large selection of people and get loads of feedback to mull over and consider. I’m not “don’t do this”, I’m just speaking for myself that things always go smoother for me when I keep my collaborative circle small; this allows things to remain more centered and manageable. If I have five, six, ten-plus individuals constantly bombarding me with all kinds of notes in the early stages of my work, it’s very easy to get lost in the sauce. Keep it light.

7. Minimize time spent online.

It’s not just a distraction but it can be rather toxic when it comes to getting feedback or trying to find groups to help you creatively. You definitely can benefit from online resources as there are a number of great hubs out there but you run a high risk of being misguided/misled. It’s too easy for people online to convince you or the crowd that they are reputable enough to give advice. Far too often I have come across situations where the anonymous person dishing out rules and guidance has virtually no portfolio or educational background in writing. They are simply handing out Google results to writers. Another toxic sub-group focuses on tearing down a writer’s work-in-progress while providing no helpful feedback and personally attacking the writer. I’ve experienced this level of hostility even when sharing general notes and ideas. It’s better to avoid that destructive energy as much as possible.

8. Relax.

I know a lot of us want to write that next groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize winning work. Maybe one day one of us will but until then it’s crucial that I write because it’s a passion for me and something that makes me feel alive (cue poetic flair). Any success gained from that is a bonus. Relax. Enjoy the experience.

9. Read less, study more.

It’s one thing to read great works of literature but it’s another thing to understand what makes them great. I used to strictly read a lot and nothing beyond that. I would get frustrated when I felt my writing remained stagnant and didn’t see any measurable shift in its quality. Eventually, someone asked me if I knew why some of these classics I was reading were regarded as such and I had a light bulb moment. As I started to understand what made certain works of literature so revered, I was able to apply that knowledge to my writing. It wasn’t a coincidence I began to see improvement.

Well, that’s it! These things aren’t just exclusive to writing either. It can be applied to other creative fields and of course it’s likely going to be an ever expanding/evolving list. Hopefully some of you were able to find some use in them.