Writing tips

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With the approaching publication of my story collection PALE HEARTS, I’ve been thinking about the writing process.  When I first started these stories about four years ago, I had no idea how difficult writing would be.  Creating each individual piece took time-consuming, grueling effort; publishing was even worse.  Still, over time, I learned writing strategies that helped me press forward.  Each author has their own collection of writing tips.  Here are some that have helped me.

-Manage your time wisely.

Time management is key.  Most of us will never make any meaningful income from writing.  It’s frustrating, but it’s a fact we have to accept.  During the four years that I wrote this book, I worked full-time.  That meant setting aside dedicated writing hours and sticking to the plan.

Different strategies work for different people.  Some people like to reach a specified word count per day.  I write for a specific amount of time.  For me, a useful writing session is at least two hours.  That means writing for a full two hours after work at a specific time, such as from 6-8 or 7-9.  The tricky part is fitting this in with eating dinner and other daily activities.  During the work week, I make simple dinners so they don’t interfere too much with the writing schedule.  I have a set number of hours that I plan to write that week (usually 10) and I strive to meet it.  If I don’t meet the quota on one day, I make it up on another.  For instance, if I want to write for 4 hours over the course of 2 days, but only write 1.5 hours the first day, then I write 2.5 hours the second.

For some reason, it’s hard to start writing, especially when you’re tired after a long day at work.  There’s often the temptation to do other things “first”–organize your room, check websites, etc.  Try not to give in to this temptation–or, if you must, manage it by promising that you’ll only spend 10 minutes procrastinating.  Usually, once you dare to open your Word document, it gets easier.

Not that I have procrastination fully mastered.  I often get to the end of the day and realize that I wasted an hour here or there.  I’m always trying to discipline myself to use time more productively.

Push through self-doubt.

Many writers, myself included, often feel terrible about our work.  Sometimes I look at my drafts and think they’re the worst, stupidest stories ever written.  Apparently it’s common for writers to feel this way, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with.  Self-doubt can sometimes feel overwhelming, an almost physical sensation of pain and paralysis.

I’m still figuring out how to deal with this.  One thing that works well is reading some really bad writing to reassure myself.  This might sound silly, but reading something terrible–especially if it’s published–is a nice and often humorous way to make yourself feel better about your own writing.  I may not be fantastic, I think, but at least I’m better than that. 

Be prepared for rejection.  Lots of it.

I knew, from stories about famous writers, that I’d probably get some rejections along the way.  I had no idea what I was really in for.  On average, I’ve sent stories to about 60 places before they get accepted.  I don’t count my rejections, but I have hundreds at least, if not a thousand.  Not only have I been rejected from lit mags, but also from newspapers, MFA programs, writing classes, grants, fellowships, and artist residencies.  I’m not going to lie: it is brutal.  The publishing world is cruel and arbitrary.  You do get used to it–most of the time.  Occasionally, when I start to think I’m fully hardened against disappointment, I feel hurt by specific rejections, like when I have a story that I thought was perfect for a particular magazine.  Yet while rejections hurts, the publishing gods also hand out pleasant surprises.  I’ve two pieces published in much better journals that I expected.  It still surprises me that the editors liked these stories.

Ignore your sense of embarrassment.

Writers tend to be introverts and perfectionists.  As such, we often experience conflicted feelings when we publish. On one hand, we want our work to be published and read–that is the point, after all.  On the other, we’re often mortified by what we have written.  It’s weird to know that strangers might be reading our words, and by extension, our thoughts.  We obsess over word choices and punctuation marks.  I often feel a sense of intense dislike for pieces that I have previously published.  I feel embarrassed by what I see as errors or oversights.

Many writers feel this way.  I’ve heard other people express the exact same thing.  I’ve even heard some writers advising others not to publish until they’re sure a piece is perfect, or “really done.”  I believe this is foolish.  Most of the writers I know are perfectionists to a fault.  They could spend their whole life rewriting Chapter 1 before they ever felt fully confident about it.  This is a natural hazard of the profession.  If you wait until you feel perfectly confident or completely ready, you’ll never publish a thing.  If you allow your embarrassment about past pieces to overwhelm you, you’ll never progress as a writer.

Put positively, if you feel a strong sense of shame and inadequacy about your writing, you’re a real writer for sure.  Just don’t let those feelings derail you!

When attempting to publish, visualize success.

This probably sounds corny, like something out of a self-help book.  However, in the face of crippling odds, it really does help.  Most of my published stories received several rejections before they were accepted at literary journals.  Although this was discouraging, thinking about how I would feel when the story was published helped me continue submitting.  For my book, this was especially helpful.  I submitted my story collection to about 50 indie presses over the course of a year. The process was horribly discouraging.  A few publishers loved my writing, then said they no longer accept story collections.  Others praised the manuscript, but had full publishing schedules or were going out of business.  Sometimes I wanted to forget the whole thing.  But then I imagined how it would feel to hold my book in my hands.  I thought of how glad I would be to have the collection given the status of book, not just a bunch of printed-out pages.  I kept submitting, and PALE HEARTS was finally accepted by Insomnia Publishing.

What are your favorite writing strategies?  Comment below!

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