2017 was a full year of writing accomplishments: I finished my WIP, published several magazine stories, and wrote over fifty blogs. Thassalotta words. A year ago, I wrote 12 Months, 12 Freelancing Lessons about what I’d learned in 2016. This year I’d like to share 12 lessons from a writer’s life that might be helpful to non-writers as well.
Writing and revision take more time than I expect. So does reading, especially the comprehensive not-just-skimming kind. Editors and agents expect writers to meet tight deadlines, but their own time frames usually slip; it’s just part of the process. I’ve learned not to take it personally, and to refocus on a passion project rather than thumb-twiddling.
Revision is my friend
How many times have I walked away from a conversation only to think of the perfect witty retort? My characters aren’t usually that witty either when they first speak up, but once I know what they’re trying to say I can tweak and improve and hone their dialogue—right up until the moment I push the magic send button. (The same applies to description and plot, but somehow dialogue improvements are more satisfying.)
Fiction or fact, it’s all about the story
Regardless of format, length, or how much suspension of belief is required, readers will set down anything that veers too far off the expected path. Avoid data dumps and blind alleys.
No experience is wasted
The work of writing is stringing words together, but those words are inspired by getting out into the world. I never know how a particular adventure will play into my work; I just know that I have my best ideas away from my desk.
There’s always room for improvement
Most stories don’t get enough editing before they are sent out into the world, due to the limits of time, money, and patience. No matter how many revisions I’ve already done, I can almost always make a story better (though it may take a few sprinkles of outside perspective). Which means…
It’s probably not finished yet
When I finished the first draft of my WIP, I thought the book was finished because I knew what it was “about.” Four months and three revisions later, I really finished it—though I’m sure it could be tweaked even more.
Enjoy the process
When I sit down to write a story, I always think I’m writing the final draft—probably a trick my brain plays to get me to started. Floundering and struggling with ideas is part of the process, and every piece I’m proud of started as a very rough version of its finished self.
“Hopefully” I’ll get edited by someone else
I’m pretty good at cleaning up my own writing, but it took an outside editor to see that I like to start sentences with the word “hopefully.” I’m sure there are other tics and habits I’ll discover in 2018.
Make every word count
Don’t explain what happens more than once. As a fictitious ten year old says, that would be “bo-ring!” Every word should propel the story forward.
Only I can tell my story
Word choice, details, descriptions; my best writing is unmistakably my own. Embrace that difference!
Listen and learn
Whether interviewing or just chatting, active listening helps me fine tune the voices inside my head by teaching me about accent, word choice, phrasing, characterization… I could go on and on.
Creativity is queen
Imagination makes it possible to spot a leaf blowing down the street and turn it into a story (or two) about a young boy blown back in time. The more distinctive my voice, the more valuable it will remain as I forge ahead into the brave new world of 2018—and beyond.
Thanks for following along on this journey!