Advice for ‘Aspiring Writers’

from Wikimedia Commons
from Wikimedia Commons

Almost every place I go, if I tell people I’m a writer, especially if I tell them I have written books that have their very own ISBNs, someone there wants advice. Namely, they are, or they know, or they have kids who are, “aspiring writers.” Having chatted this afternoon with my dentist about this — I should say, having listened to my dentist chat about this while I had a bunch of devices in my mouth — I was going to write a blog post offering my “advice” to “aspiring writers.” Then I came across this amazing post that says a lot of what I would, and does it fantastically. So here are my addendums to those 25 great pieces of advice:

1. Seriously, go read that piece. And stop using the word “aspiring.” In his post, Chuck Wendig explains why that word is not only irritating and a way to diminish the aspirant’s status, but also insulting to real writers. I can’t tell you how many people at cocktail parties, wanting to make innocuous conversation, send me up a wall by responding to my statement of my profession with something like, “Oh, I was going to write a book once.” Were you really? No, you weren’t, or you would have. See, the main difference between me, professional writer, and you, person who was going to write a book once, is the fact that I did. It’s actually kind-of a big deal. As Wendig says, “Here are the two states in which you may exist: person who writes, or person who does not. If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not. Aspiring is a meaningless null state that romanticizes Not Writing. It’s as ludicrous as saying, ‘I aspire to pick up that piece of paper that fell on the floor.’ Either pick it up or don’t.”

2. If you want to be published, figure out how to do it, and then start doing it. There are a zillion books and classes that will help you on your chosen path. Get a book, take a workshop, and get it done. I hear many complaints from my students about the laborious processes involved in getting published; believe me, I relate, I do it every day. But we all do it every day, and it’s hard to imagine someone figuring out how to change the system of query letters and proposals and manuscript submissions. If you want to be published, follow the rules and do the work. If you don’t want to do those things, you don’t want to be published that badly.

3. Those books and classes I just mentioned? Read them and take them. If you’re stuck in any way with your writing, I really recommend a class, and not just because I teach (and consult, and edit, and etc.). I take them myself when I’m struggling with a new project or just looking for an inspiration refresher. They’ll often tell you a lot of things you already know, but you may have an insight — and you’ll definitely get feedback and ideas. Books about writing are a good alternative. (If you’re interested in private classes in NYC, email me; I hold small group classes/writing groups in my living room periodically.)

4. For the love of God, read, especially the kind of stuff you want to write. One of my students in Creative Writing this term told the class that someone in her writing group claims not to read at all. I don’t understand this. So much of writing comes from reading. Not all of it, but a lot of it. Reading shows you what others are doing, so you know how to give readers fresh insights and twists. It allows you to see how others do certain things — transition to flashbacks, write good dialogue, make supernatural events believable, whatever. It inspires and informs you. How can you give the world something new if you don’t know what the world has already?

5. Embrace rejection. Even as a person who prides herself on taking feedback and rejection quite well, I’m still getting used to the idea of bad reviews. Point being, there’s always a new level of rejection out there for writers to master, like an endless, painful video game.

6. Know we’re all just making this up as we go along. Those of us who are published probably don’t know that much more than you do — we simply went to the classes and read the books and wrote, wrote, wrote, and did what we needed to. We did stuff. You can, too.

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6 comments

  1. Thank you so much. I will never again call myself an aspiring writer. I am a writer. I write for hours everyday. I hope to have a manuscript ready by this summer. It lifts my confidence to be able to say that I am a writer!

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