Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thirteen Things I Know About Writing

Okay, since I missed last week, I had to shuffle around and my list has changed a bit.

1. While you don't absolutely, die-hard need it, having power helps, because you can use electronic devices, and also you write better when you're not distracted by the sure knowledge that everything in your fridge is slowly going bad and will inevitably lead to the need to clean your fridge inside, out, top, and bottom.

2. (Here's where the real list starts) What makes you a writer does not make you an author. Writers write. Good, bad, purple, grammatically incorrect, deathless prose or ad copy, writers write. Authors submit, publish, sell, and promote. You cannot be an author without first being a writer, and you cannot stay an author without going back to being a writer.

3. There will always be somebody better than you. S/he'll be luckier/more clever/get a better deal/write faster, submit your great idea first/find just the right word more often/win more contests or contracts/and climb higher on the charts than you. Deal with it and don't write for her or him.

4. Writing is not a spectator sport. Writing isn't something that happens to you. It is something you do, and you must treat it like something to be done and not something done to you.

5. Consequently, like anything else you do, you will need to learn how to do it if you want to do it well or safely. If you want to continue doing, you must continue learning.

6. Story is Character, except when it's not. Sometimes Story is Plot, but never forget that Plot happens to Character to bring about changes. Story is rarely ever just words or the way you string 'em together.

7. Story is Not You. Very rarely does any sane reviewer or reader loathe the author even if they loathe the story. If you take it personally, you will spend more time bandaging up your bruised ego than nurturing your fertile imagination.

8. Understand that the nature of the beast means you can't help but take it personally. Make time to grieve and develop coping skills--healthy coping skills that don't include internet tantrums--for when you inevitably run up against someone who did not like your story.

9. Feed Your Head. Rome wasn't built in a vacuum, and neither are good stories. Stories--all stories--speak to the human experience and the human condition at their heart. You can't speak to the human condition if you aren't living it.

10. Embrace the Concept of Revision. Revision is not evil, and there is no shame in understanding that your work can only improve with a critical eye and an editing pencil. Put your inner diva away and welcome that editor with open arms.

11. Become Adept at Pseudo-Schizophrenia. There are certain important times when that editor from #10 above will need to be stuffed in the closet, bound and gagged and rendered unconscious for good measure while the creative part of you plays. You have to find ways of doing this without costly psychiatric treatment, psychotropic drugs, or shock therapy. Manage the different parts of yourself and make sure, for Pete's sake, that the right part is working at the right time.

12. Writing Isn't Everything. You do have to take time off, even when writing is both productive employment and guilty pleasure. Accept this, plan for it, and let the guilt go, or else spend half your time dodging the warning signs of major burnout. There are writers who don't take breaks and don't let it go, and most of them seem to have cycles where burnout strikes on a semi-regular basis. Personally, I can't see how the rest of my life wouldn't explode into toxic goop if I let that become part of my routine.

13. Accept that some days, the writing won't come. Not to say give up at the first sign of challenge, but there are just some days where life intrudes and you'll find more productivity in letting go of the guilt and putting the writing on hold for a few hours or days in order to set other things straight. And you'll be happier and more eager to get back to it.

2 comments:

Savanna Kougar said...

Xandra, you always give such good advice. Thanks.

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Great list, Xandra! #10 should be handed out with every writing contract.