The Only Writing Advice I Can Give

I have never wanted this blog to be about writing. I set out, in fact, to specifically NOT write about writing. I wanted to write about everything else. My last blog was about writing. I even wrote a weekly column about writing for another website. I seemed to have no problem giving people advice about writing (as if I had any clue about anything to do with . . . anything).

I hereby rescind all of my writing advice. Should you ever find any of it, print it and burn it.

I had a very long talk with a lovely friend yesterday–a friend who understands this virus called “writing.” We shared our frustrations and fears, our fictional loves and our big dreams. But we also talked about our kids, our husbands, our childhoods, our hobbies, our shared faith, and a host of other things. And I realized that the thing that carried the conversation was not the writing. It was the connection.

I have thought a lot about what has changed in my life since I put my writing away last year. My house is still a mess. My kids still fight. I still get immersed in projects. I’m still insanely busy. What has changed?

On the surface, not much.

Internally? I’ve re-centered my spirit around what’s important–my God and my family.

And in the process of re-centering myself, God has given me back my writing.

If my kids get too obsessed with a video game, I’ll take the video game away to break the habit. Like a good parent, God pried my writing out of my clenched fists and put other things in my open hands–His Word, mostly. And then when He had lovingly applied a balm to palms that were shredded from obsessive clenching, He very kindly placed my writing back on my hands.

So I had a conversation with my friend yesterday, and it made me think–what writing advice would I give now?

The only writing advice I am qualified to give.

Don’t write. Breathe. No one can work on one thing all day, every day, for hours a day. I know the writing world is filled with stories of men and women who crank out hundreds of thousands of words every year and sell millions of books, but they aren’t you. They are often products of a publishing world on meth–a world that has to continue to crank out product like a soda bottling plant, churning words off an assembly line because it will die if it doesn’t. Remember, sharks die if they quit swimming, and publishing is full of sharks. Allow yourself time to NOT write.

Cross train. Runners who strength train run faster. Writers who creatively cross train write better. I have no empirical evidence of this–it’s just a theory based on my own recent experience. When I allow myself time to sew and knit, I find myself more inclined to pursue my writing endeavors. I find I enjoy them more and have a greater sense of satisfaction with the product of my writing sessions. Whether other people will agree is not the point. If you aren’t writing for yourself, there’s no reason to write.

Remember your audience. It’s you. Or in my case, it’s God. But that’s me. The point is that your audience isn’t “out there” so much as internal. I suppose this is sort of the “don’t write for the market” advice, but the problem with that advice is that it’s still focused on the market. Focus on the audience. And the most important audience, the one who has to live with it all, is you.

Redefine success. This is something my friend Laurel has gently convicted me of. Success is not defined by book sales or titles published or stellar reviews. I am convinced–after being rather chewed up and spit out by the world of writing and publishing–that those measures of success are a result of marketing and publishing efforts, not writing efforts. Success as a writer is something else. Did you tell the story you wanted to tell as well as you could tell it? Then you are a success. You are a storyteller. Define success in that context.

Only take responsibility for you. You are responsible for the story. That’s it. You can’t control reviews or sales, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. There are as many theories on how to sell books as there are writers, and all of them still have one problem: they depend on the consumer for success. And as much as Don Draper would like to think he can control the consumer, he can’t. The world of advertising and marketing is littered with the mangled bodies of failed campaigns. We only hear about the successes. So, dear friend, write the best story you can write. That’s all you can do.

Feed your soul. And your body, and your mind, and your heart. Close the Word document and look away. Nurture your faith. Hug your kids. Go out with your spouse. Read. Take a walk. Listen to the rain. Sing. Talk to a friend. Teach something. Go target shooting. Exercise. You are not just a writer. You are a whole person. Spend time acting like a whole person.

Write. If you are a writer, you know it. You have to write. It’s a virus that withers us from within unless we feed it. So feed it. Just . . . control its diet.

That’s it. No grammar, structure, or story advice. No marketing, publishing, self-publishing words of wisdom. Share your work or don’t share it–I’m not one to tell you whether it’s “worth sharing” or not. I know what I like to read, and there are plenty of novels that I think are utter trash. But that’s my responsibility as a reader.

Your responsibility, dear writer, is to write.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

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3 thoughts on “The Only Writing Advice I Can Give

  1. Laurel C Kriegler

    Awesome awesome advice!!! I’m gonna share this, for sure. It’s really nice to read a fresh perspective, and even though I know the roots of this advice, it’s still well worth it advice.

  2. Pingback: The Only Writing Advice I Can Give | Laurel's Writing Desk

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