I get emails and messages from aspiring writers all the time asking me for the one thing they should know, or the one thing they should do, in order to be a successful writer. Well, there’s never just “one thing,” but I’ve taken all my very best writing advice and distilled it down into five things that will help any aspiring writer along on their way to success.
Stop Trying to Control Everything
This is a big one. Writers are anxious people and we like control. It makes us feel safe and like we can anticipate the problems lying in wait for us and come up with solutions for them before they’ve even come to pass. But no matter how much we plan things out in our head, we can’t predict the future, and we definitely can’t predict the exact details of how our creative work will turn out once it’s out of our heads and down on the page.
The best thing you can do for yourself is let go. Don’t be so attached to your outline, the order in which you write your story, how you think your characters should act, and whether or not you’re hitting every point of the Hero’s Journey. Those things are fun to play around with and they can be helpful, but don’t try to use them as control mechanisms to the point where you strangle your story.
Stop Listening to What Everyone Else Is Saying
The point of being an artist is self-discovery. While it can be helpful to peruse different writing methods to see if you find anything that works for you, ultimately, you’re going to want to experiment with your own writing practice and observe the way YOU work as a unique, creative being. It doesn’t matter if everyone on the planet believes that real writers write every day. If that doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work. Get rid of it and find your own groove.
As you deepen your own writing practice, you will learn more about yourself and your own creative rhythms. Every writer has their own cycle. Your job is not to adopt someone else’s cycle, but to discover your own, and then honor it.
Stop Trying to Get Your Friends and Family to Be Your Audience
This is something I see all new writers do, and almost all new writers struggle with it. When you’re first starting out, you don’t have an audience. You don’t have readers or fellow writers for friends, so you naturally make do with what you have, which are the people who are already in your life. This usually results in something like a writer giving their friend who loves sweet romantic stories a dark and brutal piece of crime fiction, and then feeling rejected and like a failure when their friend can’t get through it.
Very rarely is there overlap between your friends and family and the people who actually want to read your stuff. Instead of using your friends and family as beta readers, find the people who truly are interested. Start a blog. Start a few social media accounts just for you as the writer, and most importantly, make the commitment to start making more writer friends.
Start Making Do With What’s Available in This Moment
I get a lot of questions from writers about writing space and writing rituals. A lot of aspiring writers have this idea that they need the perfect writing space — a private room with lovely scented candles and a view of the forest — and the perfect writing ritual — one hour of meditation beforehand and a cup of steaming Earl Grey tea — before they can even think about getting one word down on the page. As a working writer, I can tell you honestly that this is total bullshit.
If you really do want to be a writer, then you’re going to have to take time and space as you can get it. Maybe that means you sneak in some writing time during your online workday at your job. Maybe you talk your partner into taking the kids to the playground for an hour on Saturday morning. Maybe you’re standing up at the kitchen counter, madly scribbling down what you can for 15 minutes. Most likely, it won’t be pretty, but it will work. And that’s what’s important.
Start Accepting Yourself as a Writer, as You Are RIGHT NOW
Almost every writer I talk to is a self-improvement junkie. Some are working on writing more often, some are working on upping their word count. Many are taking classes on craft, reading writing guides, or trying to find just one more beta reader to give them feedback on their novel, even though they’ve already gotten feedback from over a dozen. Self-improvement can be helpful in some aspects, but what I see most clearly from these patterns in writers is that there is a real lack of self-acceptance and surrender to where we are right now on our path as writers, and as human beings.
The bottom line is: Writing is actually supposed to be fun. It is something that is supposed to nourish you, support you, help you grow and expand, and help you connect more deeply with your own heart and mind. It’s not something you need to get an A+ or 100 percent on. It’s not a test or a way for everyone else to judge you and find you unworthy. Writing is an act of love toward yourself.
That’s the thing I see writers forget the most often.
If you see yourself in any of this, make a short list of three things you can do today to be more accepting and more loving of yourself as a writer, and then commit to doing them. Remember, the goal isn’t to be perfect, the goal is to be you.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, The INFJ Revolution, and the creator of Intuitive Writing, a six-step online video course for INFJ and INFP writers who struggle with writing. She is also currently offering a free copy of her book on creative marketing for INFJ and INFP writers to anyone who signs up for her newsletter. SIGN UP HERE to get your free copy of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers.