Advice for Writers & Artists

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I’ve been writing a lot lately for my blog, in my journals, and for a book proposal I’m thinking about. I find that writing is really the same as any other kind of creative endeavor. Sometimes you’ve got the mojo and sometimes you don’t. And in those times when you don’t, it can be frustrating. It can be hard to get back in the groove. But I realized that I had lots of inspiration sitting on my bookshelves. Over the years, I’ve collected a bunch of books on writing by some very good writers. And I thought I’d do a round-up of my favorite advice from other writers and myself. So here goes:

1. Fill the well. Artists need to fill themselves up with ideas, colors, experiences, travel, movies, books, and music. Build a creative life. Find inspiration from whatever makes you feel good–concerts, plays, novels, nature walks, day trips, photography, people watching. And look for ideas everywhere you go. There are so many places to pick up story or blog post ideas. On the street, in the library, at the farmer’s market, over coffee with friends, etc. When you look for stories, you will find them.

2. Journal. I’ve gotten some of my best ideas from just journaling about my feelings, what’s been happening in my life, and things I’ve read about or seen. Sometimes it’s one line that I’ve written in my journal that leads to a new piece of art or a blog post idea.

3. Act like a professional. Ask yourself what you would do if you were a “professional” writer. And then do those things. If I was a professional writer, I would have a designated light-filled writing space, I would go to authors’ readings and introduce myself, and I would write for at least an hour a day (or more). So I do those things. Take yourself seriously or no one else will.

4. Teach yourself self-discipline. I think there’s a misconception that successful writers are just born really disciplined and they churn out novels like factory-made plastic toys. But I’ve spent a lot of time listening to my favorite authors talk about their process and not one of them said, “This thing’s easy.” The words don’t just come flowing out with ease into perfectly formulated sentences. Sometimes it might feel that way, but other times they’ve described it as feeling like torture. Like they actually have to grab onto any little idea they can before it floats out the door. Some days they only write one good sentence. And other days, they fill pages. But the common denominator is that they show up to see what happens. You can teach yourself self-discipline. Show up. Every day. Show up. And see what happens. Remember, you can be the most talented and passionate storyteller in the world but unless you show up and actually write it all down, no one will ever know.

5. Think of yourself as a teacher. Particularly for my blog posts or ideas for magazine articles, I have to think about what I want to share. After all, my blog isn’t some random collection of thoughts haphazardly thrown down. It’s meant to share ideas, artwork, beauty, and techniques. I want people to know who I am, what I do, and how they can be inspired to do creative things too. Always think about what you want to share and what you want to teach. I find that when I come at my writing from that perspective, ideas flow more easily and my messages are clearer.

6. Be yourself. Sometimes, in both writing and in life, we feel like we have to be someone else in order to be accepted. But the best policy is to always show up as yourself. Use your own voice and speak the way you normally would with a friend. Obviously, this is intended for non-fiction and blog writing, etc. And it seems obvious. But the reader can tell when you’re trying too hard, when you don’t seem authentic. The same way that you can feel that weird vibe when you meet someone who is not being true to who they are. You’re the best version of you. Why would you want to try to be anyone else?

7. Tell the devil on your shoulder, “Thanks but no thanks.” I’m going to speculate and say that every person who creates art of any kind thinks at one point or another that no one is going to like it, they might be completely embarrassed by the reviews, and they are the worst artist to ever have existed…in no particular order. If you create, you will always have that nagging voice, that little guy who sits on your shoulder and tells you how absolutely awful you are. He makes you feel lower than low and assures you that everyone will laugh if you attempt to show your work. But there is a way to silence the little devil. Do it anyway. Even when you’re scared or nauseous, do it anyway. Show your work, share it, and take constructive criticism. Then do more work. The little devil hates that. He is silenced by sharing. If it were up to him, you would stay alone with your work in a dank, dark basement, crying about how horrible it is. He gets weak in the knees when you come out of the basement. He reminds you that it’s scary out there and much easier and comfortable back in the house. He hides when you show your work to someone you trust. And he all but disappears when you take your constructive criticism and go back to work to do it all over again. He’s actually the coward. Not you.

8. Every now and again, send a handwritten note to an author you admire. Let them know how much you like their work and why it has affected you. I’ve done this and gotten back some lovely responses. This ritual makes you realize that these big-time writers are just like you–they have to sit down to an ominously white screen and come up with something to type. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not. But they work at it and you can too. Hearing from a favorite author can bolster your confidence and even if you don’t hear back, you know that you’ve communicated your respect and admiration.

9. Be kind to yourself. Rather than beating yourself up for having not written or having written what you deem to be garbage, do something nice for yourself. Get a manicure, go for a walk, take a short nap, make something delicious to eat, meditate, or read poetry.  Now this being kind to yourself can rejuvenate you and get you ready to go back to work. But only if you don’t over-indulge. Don’t go off on an all-day shopping spree and forget the whole point of the exercise. Know when to get back to the page.

10. Write. Write. Write. Even if you think it’s crap, write. Get something down on paper. Who cares what’s in your first draft? You’re going to furiously edit it anyway. You can always take out all the completely useless adjectives and filler sentences. Just get it all down on paper. And then write some more.

Some of my favorite books on writing:

On Writing-A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The War of Art-Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Making a Literary Life-Advice f or Writers & Other Dreamers by Carolyn See

The Artist’s Way-A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

The Sound of Paper-Starting from Scratch by Julia Cameron

Write Away-One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction & the Writing Life by Elizabeth George

The Courage to Write-How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes

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