Black fountain pen writing on lined paper. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

26 things I learned the hard way

Here are 26 things I wish I’d known before becoming a full-time writer + teacher of writing…

  1. Stories are everywhere. I don’t have to be a goddam pirate to write about my life and dramatic does not necessarily mean interesting.
  2. You’ll never find your voice if you’re afraid of being overheard. Write out loud because it’s the only way we improve.
  3. It is not possible to write well, or at all, if you’re desperate for a wee. Go for a wee.
  4. My work is a gift. All I can do is my best, and people will either like it or not, accept it or not; I have no control over what happens once I send it into the world.
  5. You don’t have to be a comedian to be funny. Sometimes funny is putting two ideas together that haven’t gone together before; a pithy observation; an unusual word in just the right place; your quirky way of seeing something. Sometimes it evokes an inner smile; sometimes a chortle; sometimes a belly laugh that makes tea come out of your nose.
  6. Writing isn’t necessarily writing. You don’t have to make marks on paper (or word processor) to write; you can record voice notes, use a phone app, video yourself, do interpretive dance — whatever works for you.
  7. You can be the best writer in the world, and still nobody will read or buy your work if you don’t put it in front of people.
  8. You can write an entire book in 10 minutes a day. If that’s all you have, use it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to wait for the clear month — it’ll never happen.
  9. There is no such thing as perfect. And perfect is boring anyway. Embrace wabi-sabi and find the beauty in imperfection — that’s where your voice is.
  10. Starving artists can’t write. You need proper brain food so put time into making some. A jar of lemon curd for lunch isn’t going to create anything but a headache and a lingering sense of regret.
  11. Make writing a habit. We need structure and routine — even the creative arty types. So create a habit stack that works for you, and write consistently.
  12. Boundaries beget creativity. There’s nothing more imprisoning than the instruction “just write about anything”. If you tell me to write about the history of socks, however, I’m all over it.
  13. Deadlines are magical. If I have no deadline, my piece won’t exist. Set deadlines for yourself and find a way to make them stick. Or become accountable to someone else.
  14. Writing doesn’t have to be lonely. The image of the lonely tortured writer in a tower is bullshit. The world’s most successful writers have always had friends to write with. Find your tribe.
  15. It’s okay to write just because you want to, for you. I often make myself laugh, and even if nobody else finds me funny, that’s okay — I’ve pleased at least one person.
  16. You don’t have to write what you know. I know your teacher told you to, but I’m pretty sure Tolkien didn’t know any dragons.
  17. Aim to write dogshit. I’m convinced the main thing that stops most writers ever getting started is this need to produce a fantastic first draft. It won’t be fantastic and understanding that and embracing it is crucial. So aim to write shit, and be pleasantly surprised by what comes out.
  18. Be afraid of obscurity, not rejection. Some people won’t like your work; that’s inevitable and it’s okay. Worry about being SEEN and make it happen.
  19. Steal like an artist. (As Austin Kleon says.) You don’t have to create something utterly unique. Read widely and steal bits of it for yourself. Credit where it’s due, of course; absorb what works for you, discard the rest — and what’s left is unique.
  20. Don’t write to be right. Write to show people another point of view. Offer your work up as a gift, and let people take from it what they will. Some will love it; some will hate it; so what?
  21. Take one day that is solely for you. On Mondays, I have no calls, no meetings, no client work; it’s all for me. For writing. For creating. Create space to create.
  22. You don’t arrive with a fully developed voice, and when you develop one, it won’t stick. We are constantly changing, and so are our voices, and that’s okay. We’re never “done”.
  23. Doomscrolling other writers on socials isn’t helpful. Unfollow people whose content makes you feel like shit, even if you love them and their work. Find what inspires you to write, instead. But mostly — write.
  24. Motivation comes from within. You won’t get motivated by scrolling and liking other people’s stuff. You have to roll your sleeves up and write, even when you don’t feel like it.
  25. Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself. (So Terry Pratchett said.) We get to make stuff up for a living. We get to find the truth by telling tales. How can you make this fun?
  26. You know more than you think you do. And you’re learning more and growing more every single day. Keep writing.

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