Several days ago, I talked to a friend who is just beginning her journey as a writer. Since I’m a little more seasoned than she, she asked for my advice. As daunting as that request may be, I thought I would share with her and with the rest of you what I’ve learned as I’ve paddled to this point in the writing river. Since I’m always learning new things, I thought I would make this a writing advice series so you all can know the craziness of my discoveries on the subject. I hope these thoughts are helpful to you in your own writing journey. While I can’t promise you that we won’t always stay dry on our voyage downriver, I will do my best to keep us from colliding with any partially submerged boulders along the way. Now, strap on your life-jackets and let’s get started.
Lesson 1: Great writing requires more perseverance than talent.
Just as any like road trip you have ever taken, writing is a journey through grand vistas and dinky little shanty towns with several miles in between passed in absolute boredom. This means that you will have some inspired times of creative writing and some absolute slumps. Write through all of them. Write through every circumstance and emotion. If you can train yourself to write everyday whether you feel like it or not or whether you “have the time” or not, you will be a successful writer.
All writers begin the same way: illiterate. Think about this a moment. If we were born with the ability to read, then I might agree with the notion that writers are great because they have lots of talent. But writers don’t start out great—ever. It takes years of education for us to learn to read stories, let alone write them. This is why persistence is so much more important to a writer’s success than initial talent. If you persistently practice your craft and strive to make each writing session better than the last, your improvement in skill will come naturally. Yes, there are some of us that have more imagination than others or are better at turning a phrase, but these are all things that can be improved with practice. So please practice! Practice writing every day. I won’t go so far as to claim that practice makes perfect, but I do believe that practice makes better.
More to the point, you cannot publish and make money off of an unfinished project no matter how “good” the writing is. People often think that successful writers are people like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling because they make tons of money and have quit their day jobs to write full-time. This is actually a lie. King, Rowling, and all the rest are not successful authors because they make money at their chosen profession, but because they have the discipline to finish what they start.
Let me repeat, finish what you start. I can personally attest to the power of this practice. My best days are the days that I finish what I start because being able to push away from the computer keyboard after a job well-done is the most freeing and empowering feeling in the world, especially after a hard-fought battle with the story. Finishing what you start is one of the hardest battles that writers have to face because the temptation to quit when writing gets difficult is so monstrously easy. All I have to do is save and close out the document so that I don’t have to look at it anymore. Wouldn’t that be so much nicer than writing through with the problem that I am facing right now? It is painless to write when the muse strikes you, but it is so agonizing to continue to write when you feel that you creative energies are null.
I myself have great difficulty writing through my stories’ problems. Evidence of this is the stack of twenty short stories and two novels currently sitting in my computer. Only half of these are publishable, because only half of these are complete. When considering this, the hard fact is that I am sitting at about a fifty percent success rate. I am working to improve that percentage, but it will always fluctuate up and down whenever I finish a project or tackle something new.
The main reason why I have so many incomplete manuscripts is because I like having at two different projects going at any given time so that I can flip from one to the other when writer’s block wedges itself firmly in my path. While not a bad strategy per se, I have a problem of just keeping my projects limited to two. Often times I will start more than I can finish and end up abandoning certain projects.
To solve the problem of abandoned stories, I have decided to only tackle one large project and one small project at a time. My overall personal goal is to finish as many as four of my in-progress short story rough drafts and have all of my currently finished rough drafts edited and ready to publish by Christmas this year. That is still a ton of work to finish up, but it is far more manageable than trying to hop between ten different projects at once. It would have been far better if I had not started and then pushed so many projects to the back burner in the first place. This is my reward for not writing through my creative slumps. Please don’t make my mistake. Always finish what you start. You’ll be a wiser and more confident writer in the end, if you do.
Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better.
P.S. – Please be patient with me as I continue to perform reorganization maintenance of the main alyciachristine.com website and on my photography website through the end of September. My goal is to make both sites easier to navigate since I will have a ton of new photos to show you all after my upcoming vacation to Alaska!
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!