By Michael J. Vaughn
1. Relish the Process
Achieving wordly success as a writer is a maddeningly random matter. If you pay attention to, and appreciate, the miraculous process of electrical impulses in your head helping you to create worlds and then deliver those worlds into the brains of other human beings through black markings on a white page, you have just vaccinated yourself against the virus of rejection.
2. Trusty Companions
Cultivate a small circle of fellow writers whom you like and admire. Be discriminating about this. If you read someone’s work and think, I’d like to write like that!, then this is a colleague worth your time. If they think the same about you, you have just found something almost as rare as true love.
3. Free Advice is Worth the Money You Paid For It
Do not accept advice from wannabes. Do accept advice from people who are good writers or are involved in the publishing industry. When well-meaning civilians offer advice (and they will), advise them to actually read something you have written and report back to you. You will probably not hear from them again.
4. “Everyone’s First Draft is Shit”
Remember that it was Hemingway who said this, and that he was talking about himself. Don’t expect golden prose on a first attempt. Expect ore. It is your job to refine that ore into gold. Or copper – copper is very useful. Expecting perfection on a first foray is a sure formula for writer’s block.
5. Go Where the Heat Is
It’s tempting to choose your projects by what sells best or gets read the most. This leaves out a very important factor: the thing that you write the best will be the thing that you are most passionate about. Large projects, especially, take a tremendous amount of energy. If you feel powerfully enough about the subject, and the form, you will find that energy.
6. Be a Fan
One unfortunate part of a writer’s job is the need to spend an enormous amount of time on self-promotion. This can be an exhausting endeavor. Should you find someone else whose work you greatly admire – particularly somebody in an artistic field other than writing – spend some time being a fan. Buy their work, tell your friends about them, write a review, perhaps even find that person on the net and write them a letter of appreciation. Even rather well-known artists sometimes complain about the lack of feedback for their work. Note: if your subject is a writer, try not to tell them that you, too, are a writer. It lessens the integrity of your admiration.
7. Use Writing as an Excuse to be Weird
I have a writer friend who says, Anytime you have a chance to do something your character’s going to do, do it. Which sent me walking across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge one very cold midnight. But take this idea even further: use writing as a motivation for leading an interesting life. As another friend used to say, “You need to live before you can write.” You can also use your writing as an excuse to be a terrible buttinski. If you meet someone with an interesting job, pepper them with questions. You can always tell them you’re researching a novel.
8. Celebrate Your Achievements
It’s human nature to always be thinking about reaching the next level, but take some time to enjoy this one for a while. Completing a work is a victory in itself; even reporting these achievements to your inner circle is a kind of celebration. For the external successes – publication, contracts, awards, money (?!) – make a party out of it. And hopefully, when your career is progressing at a much slower pace than you’d like, you’ll have a few friends to remind you, “Hey look at all the stuff you’ve already achieved!”
9. Make Writing an Occasion
I do all of my writing in coffeehouses, which effectively separates me from the distracting rest of my life, and also makes it a bit of an event. Occasionally, when energy is low or I’m hitting an important section in my work, I’ll dress up a little, almost as if I were going out on a date. This creates a certain importance around the occasion, the same kind of approach you might take when attending a business meeting or a wedding.
10. Don’t Blab.
People can be massive jerks, so don’t tell them right away that you’re a writer. Wait till they’ve won your trust. Otherwise, they will ask you 1) if you’re published, 2) how much money you make, and 3) if you make a living on your writing. They’re doing this to mentally elminate you as a real writer (because how could someone they know personally be a real writer?) and to console themselves for not having the balls to follow their own dreams. These conversations take the focus off what writing should be about, which is the actual act of writing. And it’s so much sweeter when someone learns you’re a writer by reading about your latest award on Facebook. Also, I have always assumed that people who talk about their writing too much are doing so because they’re petrified of actually sitting down and writing.
Photo by MJV