Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lessons I Have Learned


I enjoy writing. I've always enjoyed writing; except for writing exams back in school and some of those assigned essays were monsters. But as I continue along this road and (hopefully) improve in my craft, I have learned several valuable lessons. I'm sure most of you know these already, but reminders never hurt. Right?

Patience: So easy to preach, so tricky to put into practice. I've learned writing takes time. It takes time to get the initial 'aha' moment, time to come up with the characters and even more time to name them correctly. It takes time to write. And re-write. And edit. It doesn't happen overnight and everyone works at their own pace. However, you must have buckets of...

Self-Discipline: When you don't have anyone literally hanging over you screaming "Is it done??" it takes self-discipline to sit yourself down and start tapping away. After all, you can say to yourself, who'll know if I don't write today? I can make it up tomorrow. I'm fine. It's a slippery slope. Deadlines are real and unless you want to pull a few all-nighters, I don't recommend putting off writing for too long. Another demon that is tricky to conquer is...

Perfectionism: I want my writing to be as good as it can be, but I've learned it's not going to be perfect right from the beginning. I'm learning to silence this demon and tell it I'll get to it later. The issue here can be that many writers are never satisfied and spend their lives in a never-ending whirlpool of editing. At some point, you have to say it's done. But the biggest lesson I've learned is...

Self-Trust: You have to trust yourself that the ideas will come. You have to trust the right word will eventually present itself. You have to trust your plot is good and your characters are engaging. You have to trust (or believe) you're not wasting your time. This is a tough lesson; or at least it is for me. I'm getting there. Slowly.

What lessons have you learned? What have you mastered and what are you still struggling with?

25 comments:

  1. Fabulous post. I was just thinking about all I have learned since I first started writing. The big one for me was that I won't be perfect from the beginning. I'll have to deal with crappy first drafts:)
    And that ties into another thing I've learned, revising takes longer than writing the first draft!

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  2. Those are all excellent lessons. I'll add that you need a thick skin to be a writer, at least one trying to get published. (fortunately, I was born with one - I think. Just don't say anything bad about my mama).

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  3. Carolyn; Thanks for the kind words. And thanks for giving me something new to worry about. No, I'll worry about that later. Now, I've got to just finish the first draft.

    Alan; I learned about thick skin long ago, to survive as an actor it was a necessity! But, you're absolutely right. Don't worry, I won't say anything bad about your mama.

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  4. Well, I never give up. So I guess you could say I've mastered optimism and hope.

    I still need to work on limiting my activities to reduce pressure and make more writing time. I can say no to the stuff I don't want to do, but the fun stuff is so hard to walk away from.

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  5. The perfectionist in me is hard to silence, but I'm working on it. My hardest lesson has been patience- waiting for a MS to cure, waiting for betas, and waiting to query. It's only going to get worse!

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  6. I've learned so many things, especially to try and not listen to self doubt. I know I'll never be the best writer in the world. I might one day be a pretty good writer but there will always be someone better. I'm kind of okay with that now. Kind of.

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  7. Perfectionism has always been an "issue" for me; however, it is a benefit in my profession. The trick has been keeping it from bleeding into other areas of my life - THAT can be downright annoying! I continue to work on it and - continue to make progress...

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  8. All you listed plus the ones up in the comments above mine. It's never ending.

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  9. Patricia; Good for you that you never give up. It is difficult learning to say no, isn't it? Especially to fun. Fun is good.

    Stephanie; Patience is a difficult lesson. I'm not there yet. I like your phrase of 'waiting for an MS to cure'. Thanks for leaving a comment; it's appreciated.

    Lauri; The self-doubt monster, cousin to the perfectionist creature, in my opinion. Who says there'll always be somebody better? Someone has to come in first.

    Crytal; I would think in your profession perfectionism is a huge asset. Good for you on working on where it is applicable and where it isn't.

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  10. Carol; There are lots of lessons, aren't there? I guess it's good to keep on learning them and discovering new ones.

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  11. Elspeth - It's always, I think, a good idea and step back to think about what we've learned. From my writing, I've learned some pragmatic lessons about how much one can expect form oneself. I get too disheartened if I'm not realistic about what I can achieve. I've also learned the valuable lesson of "measure twice - cut once." When one's revising and editing - after that first draft - the more careful and thoughtful one is, the less the final product will have to be "tweaked."

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  12. I'm still struggling with all of those at some level. The biggest thing for me is to remind myself that there will be ups and downs and turn-arounds - even published authors have them - gotta keep pushing forward.

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  13. Margot; Realism is a tricky concept, isn't it? I really like your measure twice cut once reminder. To my mind the less tweaking the better as it's possible to second-guess yourself into a manuscript that as exciting as cream of wheat.

    Deb; The pushing forward is important, isn't it? No one promised us an easy path as writers, although personally, I'd like it to be just a tad easier.

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  14. This is wonderful advice, Elspeth, and all things I learned the hard way. Still struggle with self-trust, but I'm working on it. Patience is a huge issue for me. I want everything NOW. And trusting the process--that to be authentic it must be organic and to be organic, I must trust the process. Key for me is to be in the moment.
    Karen

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  15. Karen; I hear what you're saying! Trusting the process is so important and to do that you have to be able to let go to a certain degree. I try to strike a balance between discipline and creativity. In my experience too much of either doesn't get you a very good result.

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  16. I agree, it's all about doing the thing and then doing it over, and over again, and maybe once more for good measure. So much work. And the important thing is to keep the balance as you pointed out, not to stifle our imagination with our need "get it right."

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  17. Lessons:
    1. You are never to old to learn...from others.
    2. Practice does make perfect.
    3. Mom nearly always knows best.
    4. Giving up may be the right thing OR it could make you sad.
    5. Stay balanced by real things.

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  18. Elizabeth; Balance seems to be the key. I hope I've got it; or getting it .

    JW; For me: Yes to 1, Let's hope so to 2, Not in my case to 3, Yes to 4 and 5 I'd qualify by saying what's real is different to each of us. Thanks for the list!

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  19. I learned a long time ago that first draft doesn't equal final draft. I also learned to begin a story as close to the middle as possible, and to write the book *I* would want to read.

    I struggle with that self-discipline thing all the time.

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  20. So true. I'm actually pretty good at the patience part. Self-discipline is fine when I'm drafting, not so good when I'm in the editing stage :) Gotta work on the perfectionism though!

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  21. I learned my main lesson from Dorey in Finding Nemo - "just keep swimming, just keep swimming". It is the same one my dad would tell me - "apply your bottom to the chair and write - that's how you write!". I found out one strange thing though - the only way to learn how to write a novel is to write one. Nothing else will take its place.

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  22. This is so good, Elspeth. I'd have to say the biggest lesson I've learned is "just do it!". If you have a project that interests you, a story idea that intrigues you, dive in, see where it will take you. Don't over think. Just write. It's hard but it's something I'm striving to do this year. Just write!

    Happy Friday,
    Jen

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  23. This is an excellent post and I really appreciated the comments people had left. Thanks so much for sharing this advice and these lessons.

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  24. Patience - now there's a thing: I don't have any. That is probably why, months after publishing my Hamster-Britain Stories, I've finally gotten around to polishing them (for the zillionth time) and finding a half-zillion errors. Now I'll have to re-publish! Patience: If you have it - you're blessed.

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  25. I am almost tempted to print these out, Elspeth. They are all so true.
    The one that appeals to me most right now is self discipline - nobody would know, but as long as you know, how does it matter if you have hidden it from everyone else.

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