First things first: I miscalculated how old the blog is. We’re celebrating its ninth birthday today, not its tenth. (*face turns red*) Sorry about that!
Regardless, a ninth blogoversary is impressive. I launched this site in 2009 mostly because blogging seemed like fun. (Not to mention I was always happy to find a new outlet for writing.) Since then, I’ve grown so much as a writer and as a person, and the blog has evolved as well. So, from a perspective of reflection, it’s appropriate that this year’s blogoversary post centers on all-time favorite writing advice. (Thank you for the suggestion, Zezee!)
It was challenging, but I narrowed it down to nine favorites to coincide with nine years of blogging. I hope you find these tips as motivating and inspiring as I did when I first came upon them.
#1: “You are in charge of how your work, how you think and feel about your work, and the vision you hold for where you are headed. Cathedrals hand rendered of stone are not built overnight.” – Sage Cohen, author, poet, and entrepreneur
This quote can be found on Page 44 of Fierce on the Page: Become the Writer You Were Meant to Be and Succeed on Your Own Terms.
I discovered the idea of building a writing “cathedral” from Sage Cohen’s Fierce on the Page. (She also blogged about it here.) It means understanding that developing a writing career requires patience, perseverance, and hard work; and doing so with courage, gratitude, and a sense of purpose. So, yes, it’s about defining and working toward your goals. But it’s also about considering the big picture of your writing career, nurturing an encouraging and empowering attitude, and celebrating your accomplishments along the way.
If this concept sounds familiar, it might be because I blogged about my experience with rebuilding my own cathedral back in March. I read Fierce on the Page during a time when I was struggling with confidence in my writing, and the “Building a Cathedral” chapter was like a clearing in the storm clouds. It also reminded me of a recent trip to Iceland, where I’d taken a photo of the iconic church Hallgrímskirkja. So I put the two together and now have a token that reminds me of my achievements so far, my short- and long-term goals, and the mindset I want to keep as I continue writing, dreaming, and doing what I can to make it all happen.
#2: “Let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.” – Neil Gaiman, fantasy author
Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” is one of the most insightful, hilarious, and honest talks on writing I’ve ever listened to. The excerpt above comes toward the end of Neil’s speech, as he relates advice he received from Stephen King – advice that Neil calls the “best advice I got that I ignored.”
This is something I’m guilty of, too. Sometimes I hyperfocus on the negatives, like how I’m not published yet, how I wish I could fit more writing time into my schedule, etc. Yes, writing is hard, but by dwelling on fears and worries we make it harder for ourselves. We shouldn’t kill the joy we experience by pursuing our craft. Instead, we should embrace it. And when our attitude shifts from negative to positive, amazing things can happen.
I still have plenty of goals I want to achieve. But so far on my journey, I’ve freelanced at a wide range of publications. I’ve published some poems, read at local open mic nights, even participated in a poetry slam competition. I’ve attended writing conferences in Boston and New York City and a writing retreat in Iceland. I’ve interviewed two of my all-time favorite bands, tasted teas from all over the world, and written an introduction to a literary-themed cookbook. And along that way, I’ve met some incredible people, learned more than I can share in a single blog post, and – most importantly – had a LOT of fun.
#3: “Build your story’s world from the ground up – literally.” – N.K. Jemisin, fantasy author
This was one of the points N.K. Jemisin made during her worldbuilding seminar at the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference. Part of the session involved us brainstorming a fictional world with her, and she asked us to consider that world’s geography, climate, wildlife, and so on – all before thinking about the people, culture, and other sociological elements. It was fitting advice, given that the setting in Jemisin’s then-upcoming book The Fifth Season is frequently ravaged by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other seismic events. More importantly, it compelled me to rethink my own approach to worldbuilding. Jemisin’s method is organized and logical – and it makes sense. Our way of life is shaped and impacted by where we live on Earth. Why should a fictional world be any different?
#4: “As writers, we have the power to use our words to change the minds and hearts of others. This is magic. It’s a superpower. Our superpower. And it’s our responsibility to use it.” – Gabriela Pereira, author and DIY MFA founder
This comes from Gabriela’s “Use Your Words,” which she posted at DIY MFA after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Like myself and many other Americans, she was reeling from the results and wondering what the future would hold for writers as we enter an era where not everyone respects the power of words. For me, reading that article and absorbing all of its wisdom (not just the excerpt above) was like being fueled by a rally cry.
It really is more important than ever for us writers to do what we do best. We should tell our stories and share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences – and we should do so with a heightened sense of purpose, compassion, and responsibility to the world. This is an idea I’ve carried with me ever since and applied not just to my poems and my current manuscript, but to everything I write.
#5: “Writing might sometimes be difficult, but it should never be unpleasant. If it is unpleasant – if you’re feeling frustrated, bored, or stuck – that’s not an indication of any deficiency on your part, but simply the signal to move to another part of the project, or another project.” – Hillary Rettig, author and writing coach
This quote can be found on Page 103 of The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block.
In 2012, I took Hillary Rettig’s “The Time of Your Life,” a writing workshop that focused on time management, overcoming perfectionism, and increasing productivity. During that workshop, Hillary introduced us to the writercopter, the ability to look at your story as a landscape, see all of its parts, and give yourself permission to “skip around” based on whatever part is “speaking to you” the strongest. It’s also a way to combat writer’s block; instead of remaining stuck on Scene A, you move to Scene B instead and return to Scene A later.
My jaw dropped. Before that day, I had been adamant about writing sequentially and would grow frustrated whenever I got stuck. But not once had I thought of how I could change my process so I could be more productive and let go of perfectionism. The writercopter was a brilliant solution. Today, I write all of my longer pieces (blog posts, essays, novel manuscripts) in this manner, and with the certainty that I’m more efficient this way than if I stuck to sequential writing. And it’s been wonderfully liberating.
#6: “If you hear a voice within you say ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent van Gogh, painter
Huh?! What is a quote from a painter doing in a post about writing advice??
Easy. Replace “paint” with “write,” and the meaning remains the same. 😉
If you’re a writer, chances are you’ll endure criticism and discouragement throughout your career, especially before you achieve any success. People might tell you that you’re not any good, that you’ll never get published, that you should do “something more useful” instead. You might even tell yourself any of this. Either way, it will hurt – but not as much as heeding your critics and quitting the thing you love doing most. The only way of silencing those voices, or at least ignore them, is to keep on writing.
Not long before I discovered van Gogh’s quote, a family member had told me, “You’ll have to stop writing when you get married and have children.” That comment made me furious – not only because someone I loved was trying to dissuade me from doing what I loved most, but because I knew it wasn’t true. In fact, I knew women in my local writing group who were juggling jobs, motherhood, and writing. If they hadn’t given up, I thought, why should I? Thus, van Gogh’s advice became a source of strength for me. It even inspired me to write my poem “The Critic and The Muse.”
#7: “‘Black or white’ advice – do this, or don’t do this – isn’t good advice. Trust your voice. Learn what’s best for you.” – Therese Walsh, fiction author
Sometimes advice you’ve read doesn’t truly resonate until you hear it. So even though I was familiar with the idea that “not all advice will apply to you,” it didn’t sink in until Therese said it during the Writer Unboxed panel at the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference.
The truth is, we can only follow advice that works for us individually. If we prefer one author’s tips on writing over another’s, that’s fine. What matters is that we learn what fits our unique work ethic, schedule, and personality through trial and error, and that we adapt (again, in our own way) when change is called for.
There’s also something to be said about how to offer advice on writing. To me, writing tips expressed as commands – the “black and white” advice Therese cautions us against – sound condescending. Advice is meant to be a suggestion, not an order. We should feel empowered and inspired afterward, not as if we’ve been yelled at. This is why I’m more open to tips that are worded in a warm, respectful manner, and why I’m mindful of how I phrase any advice I give to others.
#8: “Image is the root word of imagination…. Images carry feelings. Saying ‘I’m angry’ or ‘I’m sad’ has little impact. Creating images, I can make you feel how I feel.” – Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, poet, author, and poetry workshop instructor
This quote can be found on Page 24 of Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words.
While not exactly phrased as advice, this is one of many excerpts from Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy that I’ve Post-It flagged and drawn stars around. One could interpret this advice as a spin on “show, don’t tell.” But to me, it’s about finding new and inventive ways of expressing emotions in your writing – ways that are unique to you and to the piece you’re writing, be it poetry, fiction, or anything else. Once you learn how to hone that part of your imagination, you’ll reap all kinds of benefits: a personal writing style, a body of work you can be proud of, and readers who love, among other aspects of your craft, the evocativeness of your prose.
#9: “You need to get your work published – and I mean, really published!” – Allan G. Hunter, author, counselor, and college professor
OK, I cheated on this one. (*lol*) But it was writing-related advice that changed my life! Especially since Allan Hunter is not only an author, but also one of my former college professors. He gave me this bit of advice during my last week at Curry College, after I had won the Poetry and English Awards for that year’s graduating class. I’d like to think I would have continued writing and working towards publication had Dr. Hunter not said this. But when an English literature and writing professor whose work you admire, whose classes you took semester after semester, and whose counsel you trust deeply tells you this, you take it to heart. I did, and I haven’t stopped since.
What are some of your all-time favorite writing tips? Feel free to share them and other thoughts you have in the comments below.