1. Celebrate the small victories
They actually aren’t small at all! The best part about being a writer is writing, not publishing or being interviewed or having your author photo taken. The satisfaction of blocking out time, holding yourself accountable to your goals and putting words on the page isn’t contingent on an agent’s approval or a publishing contract. Seasoned bestseller or neophyte, a good day at the computer is as good as it gets for any writer, so let yourself feel as proud and excited and inspired by those days as the day you send off a query letter or sign your first contract.
2. Rejection is going to happen
So there is no point in trying to avoid it. Rejection hurts and it is natural to try and protect ourselves from that experience. But in such a highly, highly subjective world of writing (or any art) and publishing, rejection is a given. So while being rejected might not be the part of writing or publishing you relish or look forward to, you can’t let it stop you. Easier said than done. But accepting rejection as a reality that everyone goes through can help take it out of the equation when you are weighing the pros and cons of sharing your work with friends or peers or looking for representation. This is one situation in which what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger really proves true!
3. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings
If you know that a sentence you have written needs to go, no matter how lovely you think it is, you have to be able to let it go. Holding onto precious sentences that don’t serve the piece only distracts from what matters in your work. It will keep you from seeing in your work what needs to be seen. Keep deletions that you are particularly fond of in a separate document or folder; maybe one day they will be the first seed of a new project.
4. Always be reading
Read to learn what you want your writing to be, or read to learn what you don’t want your writing to be. But always be reading something! You will learn as much about yourself as a writer by what you read as by your writing. And feel free to borrow liberally! Literature is a canon that grows out of what came before it.
5. Don’t do more, do more of the same
If you are struggling to be more productive, work to decrease variability in how much you produce, versus increased production. It is shown that we greatly overestimate how much work our future selves can accomplish, and we often put the burden of production on the future self. Instead of thinking, I can make up for this next week, think, I am doing this week exactly what I am going to do next week. It has been proven this leads to higher productivity than constantly trying to increase productivity. (Full disclosure: this is a bit of information from the recently published book on will power entitled The Will Power Instinct; it is full of motivating – and clinically proven – advice.)
6. If you are having trouble working from home, consider joining a workspace for writers
Being around people with common goals can be inspiring, you will be much less distracted than you are at home, and paying for the space can make you ‘put your money where your mouth is.’ You will have added a monetary commitment to what was just an abstract personal commitment.
7. Join a writers’ group or a take a writing class
Sharing your work is scary, but it is an inevitable part of being a writer, and feedback can be very valuable. Submission deadlines can also force your hand in terms of putting words on the page; not only are you accountable to your own goals, you are accountable to the whole class. If there aren’t in-person classes offered where you live, there are lots of great online class options.
8. Get involved with the community
Attend book readings, publishing panels and writing conferences. Not only will you learn valuable information, you will connect to other people who share your interest. Writing can be very isolating; nobody would ever mistake the act of writing as social endeavour, but feeling a connection to an artistic community can provide crucial emotional and psychological support. Like with the writing classes, there is a very active and exciting online literary community with panels, readings and more.
9. There is no such thing as good writing, only rewriting
Learn to be your own best editor. Editing can be such a different experience from writing a first draft, it uses a different part of the brain and can feel much more frustrating. But it is essential you learn how to discern what is working from what isn’t working, and to be able to delete the latter no matter how much you want to keep that page count high. Plus, it is much less painful to tell yourself what is wrong with your work than having someone else tell you.
10. Don’t be afraid of what you really want
Many of my students say, “I’m working on something, but I don’t want to call it a novel.” When I ask them why not they don’t answer, “because it’s really a book of poetry,” but rather that they don’t think it deserves to be called a novel… yet. They are uncomfortable answering directly about their dreams for their work because aren’t a professional, or because they only have thirty pages, or because they aren’t sure they will finish. But if it is your intention to turn your thirty pages into a novel, say you are working on a novel. You deserve to have your thirty pages become a novel as much as any person whose nascent manuscript became a published book. If it is a novel you want and intend to write, think of your work as a novel and call it a novel; in order for the universe to give you what you really want, you have to let the universe know what it is that you really want.
Julie Sarkissian was born in Orange County, California, and attended Princeton University, where she won the Francis Leon Paige award for creative writing, and holds an MFA in fiction from the New School in New York. Her short fiction has appeared in Tin House Magazine and Quick Fictions. She currently lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York, with her fiancé. Her debut novel, Dear Lucy, is now published in paperback, eBook and downloadable audio by Hodder & Stoughton. Read more.
Follow Julie on Twitter @SarkissianJulie
“Dear Lucy introduces a young writer with a most original voice and a tenderly eccentric vision. Julie Sarkissian has created a boldly lyrical, suspenseful, and mysterious fictional world in this striking debut novel.”
Joyce Carol Oates