Every New Year, thousands, perhaps millions, of writers promise themselves that this year will be different. They’ll devote more time to becoming a better writer. They’ll figure it out and get that writing project done. This writer may or may not have said this to herself several times before, and may or may not have made much progress. If you’re one of these writers, then please, stick around and let me tell you about the writing life.
First let me say, and I mean this in the least self-congratulatory way, I’ve been a writer for most of my life. By writer, I mean not only that I write, but also that I’ve been on a path dedicated to learning how to become a better writer. And I love it and all, but the only reason I’ve been at it for so long is that I’m middle-aged and continue to show up for work. Even though I constantly feel like there’s still so much I have left to do, I have been at it for a while. This essay is about what’s helped me become a better writer every year.
Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” That feels about right. Writing is work, even when it’s the only work you ever want to do. It still takes motivation to get to the desk and stay there until the work is done. It always takes longer than we want it to. The revisions are always more extensive than we hoped they’d be. We always have to push ourselves harder than we want. Writers have to overcome all of this. But the satisfaction of having written is enough to make the day.
So how do you learn to keep showing up? How do you become a better writer?
Do Something Small
One thing about writing is that writers often underestimate the amount of time and work it will really take to complete a project. Most people can’t write a book in a month or less. Even two months would be really hard in part because we all have lives outside of writing. If you can take time away from work and other activities to write your book really fast, then that’s great. But most people can’t—they have a job or family or other things that need to get done. Even when we can get away and go on the writing retreat, if you don’t know how to show up and write, you won’t get much done no matter how much time you have.
I’ve found that even on my busiest days, I can devote a little time to writing. This is always my goal: write something. Having a project—something small or something large—going all the time helps because I spend less time wondering what to write every day. Sometimes I have to make a conscious effort to cut down on other activities. I remind myself to stop watching television or hanging out on Facebook. But over and over again, I make the commitment to write, and then do what I can to make steady progress, even if it’s just a page a day. Now my days don’t feel complete without a little writing. And although it may not feel like it at my desk every day, I’m always amazed at how quickly the pages amass over time.
Do Something Big
In addition to small investments, occasional big investments have always been an important aspect of my writing life. Things like taking a class, attending a conference, hiring an editor, or going on a retreat cost time and money. But these investments are so worth it in the energy and education you get in return. Writing is a solitary activity, and sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, until we get out of our routine and stretch our abilities.
Especially if you’re just getting started as a writer, take a creative writing class to improve your skills. Go on a trip where you do nothing but write. Attend a conference where you can network with other writers. Or take a writing retreat that lets you work closely with an instructor. (I know of an awesome writing retreat!) Over the years, I’ve made many investments in my work—from as large as getting an MFA to as small as attending a local seminar. Every time I’ve become a better writer because of the energy, peers, and education. And I like to think getting out makes me a better person too.
The New Year and How to Become a Better Writer
No matter what the past rotation around the sun brought me, I love the hope of a new year. And let me tell you, I have big plans for my writing life. So what about you?
I hope you start now by doing something small to move your writing forward. And if you’re looking for a fun way to make a big investment this year, then check out my upcoming Write Your Book Workshop & Cruise. It will be an amazing experience and an awesome learning opportunity if you need help with a big writing project. Click here to get all the details and register now.