I came to writing for publication later in life, after a well-established career in another industry. The first thing I noticed was that a writer’s life can be very lonely. We writers have to spend a lot of time on our own gathering information, jotting down ideas, honing our craft and eventually bringing our writing to fruition.
Here is where the irony lies: our ability to be keen observers of the world around us – and the quiet world within us – is what makes us writers in the first place. Yet we have to be separate, in order for our ideas to manifest themselves.
I have created these tips to help writers in their time of need, when it all seems too hard, when the words don’t just come, when self-doubt takes over and you feel very alone. These tips have become my mantra and have helped me drown the voice of doubt, which is never too far away.
1. Don’t give up. Be persistent
Believe that you have the ability and put time aside every day. Why else would it be the thing that you think about most? I have been writing journals for most of my life. And took two years to get published.
2. Ignore the (inner) critic
You can train yourself to switch off the critic that lives inside your head. In the same way that you train yourself to switch off the busy-ness at night in order to go to sleep (that’s when I think of calm things like walking on the beach or swimming in the sea). Just change the focus. Easier said than done! Practice helps.
3. Write down what comes to mind
My best writing has been when it hasn’t been planned too much. Then I go back later and edit, expand, tighten. Forget about the rules at first. Let it all out. The first draft should come from the heart, the ensuing drafts from the head.
4. Be prepared for inspiration at any time
Artist Lloyd Rees (1895 – 1988) drew initial sketches for his landscapes on cigarette boxes as he was travelling on the bus. When you least expect it an idea will come to you. Don’t rely on your memory. I have found this doesn’t work! By the time you wait for the right moment to jot down your fantastic idea or observation it will have grown wings and taken flight. Sometimes I have stopped driving en route to my day job to put pen to paper when inspiration strikes (no car accidents yet).
5. Do the leg work
I have found that what you put in to writing you get out, like anything in life. Be prepared to edit an article at least 8 – 10 times (sleeping on it and revisiting it the next day when you are fresh is helpful). Also research your subject thoroughly.
6. Keep it simple
Don’t agonise about where or how you are going to write. Just make sure you do it regularly. I have three places that I go to for writing in my tiny house: the garage, the bedroom and at the dining room table (it depends on which room is not occupied).
7. Make writing accessible
The more you do it the easier the habit becomes. A bit like brushing your teeth (and hopefully nothing like pulling teeth). You won’t notice the effort after a while. Writing is still not easy to do however! Journalist Nora Ephron (1941 – 2012) said “the hardest thing about writing is writing”.
8. Find the best writing time in your day
For me this is definitely first thing in the morning when I have a clear head and the internal judge hasn’t woken up yet.
9. Read it out loud
Sometimes when I am wrestling with a piece I need to take a fresh look at it. Reading it out loud can help me view it more objectively. Does it sound punchy enough for a publisher to want it? Is it conveying the message succinctly enough?
10. Have post it notes at the ready
Some years ago I attended creative writing classes with Anna Carmody (Editor of Bondi Shorts 1 and 2). She gave some great advice for all the ‘noise’ that comes up when we try to sit quietly to write: have post it notes at the ready for all the niggling reminders that pop up and distract your progress (for example: pick up dry cleaning). You can then scribble them down if they persist, to be reckoned with later.
11. Be prepared to make sacrifices
This year I am leaving the chaos of family and city life every 4 – 6 weeks for a weekend writing sabbatical. Hardly a sacrifice some would say (I am married to a chef so there is sacrifice in leaving him behind!). I have my family’s full support in doing this. I have stood up invitations to social gatherings when there has been a writing deadline. Friends and family will respect your decision.
12. Seek out supporters
As human beings we can’t carry on by ourselves for too long. Find a writing group or email pals who will support you and vice versa. Thanks to the internet there are many literary communities to choose from.
13. Allow new people into your life
I find I spend less time with friends who don’t really support my creative self and more time with the new ones I have found through writing. We can’t be friends with everyone, especially now that we have to find time to write as well!
14. Accept advice
Writing is a lonely occupation. We are not engineered to do things all on our own. The solitary act of writing can sometimes skew our perspective. Take advice on board from other writers, and editors.
15. Set realistic goals
Make a plan for yourself that is achievable in the time frame you have, for example: today I will draft a post for my blog and do ½ hour’s research on my article about keeping a pet in the city.
16. Know your audience
I have had work rejected on the decision that the readership is not suitable. This has been perhaps the most invaluable advice I have received to date. Research the genre and tone of the publications that will best suit your style of writing. Find the publisher for your piece before you write your article, not the other way round.
17. Hedge your bets – for your ego’s sake!
I try to submit more than one article at a time for consideration. That way you can show the publisher you are keen, flexible, a hard worker and your ego won’t be so hurt when one is rejected!
18. Change tack, take a break
When the words and ideas won’t come or you are stuck at a juncture, go and weed the garden, walk round the block or put on a load of washing. This will help filter your ideas in your subconsciousness. You will find that your perspective has changed when you sit down to continue writing.
For me, healthy body is healthy mind. Moving the focus away and back again through exercise can produce fruit for the imagination. Swimming for me helps exorcise demons. My body emerges from the water singing. There is a sense of renewal, a clean slate when I have taken a break to exercise.
19. Keep a record of your progress
Write down everything that you have achieved. Including the baby steps. This helps you see the big picture and also calms the ego when you feel totally exasperated (which you will!). It also serves as evidence that you are taking your writing seriously.
20. Celebrate wins.
Let the world know when you have been published. I did and do! It makes the hard slog worthwhile and also affirms publicly your intentions to be taken seriously as a writer.
21. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
What have you got to lose? We are not on this planet for very long so you may as well give it a go. Buddhists believe that we are all on death row, just at different places along it. A sobering thought. So get writing and best of luck!