Anne’s Maxims On The Writing Life
Here are some of the things I tell myself when I get the blues about my writing:
You started this story because it was important for you to tell it. And you’re the only one who can tell it, so you better keep going.
Think of your characters. If you give up now, you’ll leave them in limbo. Don’t they have the right to be fully realized and shared with the world?
You don’t know that no one will read your story, you’re just afraid that will be so.
You don’t know that no one will like your story, you’re just have a bad spell of self-doubt.
If you think that the “great” writers never self-doubt, you’re probably wrong. No one knows for sure if their work is any good unless 1) they believe it is, themselves, and 2) at least one other person, preferably someone you don’t know personally, agrees with you.
Getting hung up on how well – or poorly – your book is selling is inevitable. We live in a world of rankings. Best-selling car, least-expensive airfare, most interesting new restaurant and so on. A good way not to get bummed out is to always think of your book as a work of art first, and a commodity second. Consider the great artists who never made a penny in their own lifetimes. Think of Vincent Van Gogh who never sold a painting, or Emily Dickinson whose work was first published four years after her death.
Some writers get mad at that and say, “I have to make a living though! I can’t just not pay attention!” First, no one’s asking you not to pay attention. I’m just suggesting that you don’t have to drive yourself nuts to the point of getting a miserable case of writer’s block. Second, if you really want to make a living, there are many more reliable ways to do so that by hoping to get paid a lot for your work.
Don’t get me wrong – I do think writers should be paid. And I’ve given a lot of more away for free in the hope of gaining a wider audience. It’s a question of name recognition. If no one knows who you are and you to introduce them to your writing, you probably have to let them have some of it for free. When you build up an audience, and people are positively clamoring for more, then you don’t have to give anything away for free.
Think about how good writers really have it, in the world of art. A painter needs canvas, oil, an easel, and space. An actor need a play, a stage, a show that runs longer than a day. A singer needs a venue, musicians, a studio. What does a writer need? At the most basic level, a piece of paper and a pencil. That’s not a lot to work with, but really, it’s everything.
When someone asks you what you do, say you’re a writer. Don’t say, “I’m doing some writing,” or “I sort of write.” If you don’t define yourself as a writer, no one else will ever do it for you.
If someone asks you what you’ve published and you haven’t published anything yet, just say so. If they think less of you because of it, too bad.
Remember why you wanted to write in the first place, because you thought you had something to say. Remember that you still have something to say, so pull yourself together, and say it.
Help someone else with their writing struggles. Give advice, lend an ear, offer to read and make constructive comments. Build a community of writers online – or in person, if you prefer – and seek always to nourish that community.