Are you like most writers: someone in school complimented your writing? Said you might have what it takes? Or you won an English award in school? Published a short story, poem, or article when you were young? Did you have one of those wonderful teachers who stirred the pride and created the possibility that you could be someone with your words?
That’s what happened to me and every one of my clients. At some point, at a young age, someone saw our potential and encouraged us. After high school, or college, most of the writers I know stopped writing. Life started and who had time for the long hours? Or for figuring out how to craft a good story? Or time to put in as an apprentice before the writing improved.
But the seed had been planted.
Then, sometime later, it’s a different time and a different reason for everyone I know, something stirred the memory of that pride. Something woke up the possibility once again that maybe you have something to share. Perhaps, like most of us, you picked up a pen again, or took a class. And you started writing.
So what happened after that? No one really prepares you for the journey. Not how long it will take. Not the challenge and all the aspects that need to be mastered. Not for how many words you really have to write before you find your voice.
But somehow, if the original words were strong enough, if they give you something to hold onto as you learn the craft, develop the discipline, and deal with the business side of writing, you’ll make it.
What you need when it’s finally time to get seriousDaily boundaries
The first step to a career as an author is the ability to set daily boundaries around your writing time. Writing is a solitary venture. Even if you have a weekly writing group, or a daily one like I do, you must still learn how to set fairly impenetrable walls around your writing time, every single day.
Boundaries that are:
- Designed to train yourself
- And designed to train the rest of the world
I get up before my alarm most days, around 4:30 a.m. to write, because I’m excited to spend time in my fictional world. Excited to get done first what’s the most important to me, before the day starts. I’m not the only one I know who gets up before the alarm either. Many of my clients feel just like I do.
You don’t have to get up early or before your alarm. But you do have to carve out a daily time that is dedicated to your writing. Thirty minutes a day is better than a few hours on the weekend. Writing is a muscle. Exercise it religiously.
You Need Support but you might not always have it.
- Other writers
- The World
My first husband was not supportive of my writing. Rather, let’s say he didn’t have much confidence that I could be someone who would become a writer. And I bought into that for a while, myself. Thinking I didn’t have what it takes. Or that I had to get a degree in creative writing in order to be a writer. My family of origin sort of collectively shrugged and said: whatever makes you happy. While that was great – it wasn’t like someone cheerleading. I have a cheerleader in my second husband, John. And that is everything. When someone believes in you.
But, not everyone will have that. In the beginning. Some writers will have to find other ways to get support and put their boundaries in place anyway. It sucks not to have a cheerleader in your family or to have family that dismisses your dreams. It truly does. But the work has to be done anyway.
Other writers will support you, they are generally going through similar issues themselves. So finding a tribe is very important to succeeding. Look wide and find the right tribe. They can keep you going, especially if your family doesn’t.
Getting the world’s support might take a while. The world is skeptical. So support from the world is a little harder to manufacture. The trick here is twofold. Write the best damn book you can, so take a class, find a mentor, hire a coach and learn how to write work you can be proud of. Then, finish. Finish your book, publish it with a traditional publisher or publish it yourself, and call yourself an author. Cross that line with a well-written book, baby, and the chances of the world supporting you are much, much, greater.
Relationship with your inner critic
This is one of the biggies. And one that you will likely work on for your entire writing career. This is one of the major focuses of my coaching practice. How to turn your inner critic into a partner. And there are ways.
- Recognizing when your inner critic is present
- Creating mutual respect
- Training your inner ear to hear the potential in your writing
I’ve covered the importance of the writing habit. But it’s not just in page production. Staking a claim to your time, getting serious about your art, tells you something about what you will tolerate and what you will not. Negative self-talk has no place in the production of pages.
An internal editor is necessary, but all too often the internal critic has taken over. At best the internal critic makes that first draft hell to get down or makes it almost impossible to carve out time for your writing. At worst the internal critic and self-doubt stop you cold.
Becoming conscious to your internal editor’s presence is vital to your well-being as a writer. One of the first exercises my clients do when they sign on to write their books with my guidance is to name their internal editor. Begin to separate that negative self-talking, know-it-all, from the creative and fragile part of themselves that needs to create. There’s a time for the editor to take over, but it’s not in the creation stage.
Recognizing that your internal editor has a place in your writing life and where that place exists is the first step toward mutual respect between the creator and the critic in you. Do whatever you have to do to define and tell your internal editor that if she/he/it doesn’t let you play and create without regard to the rules of grammar, the rules of writing craft, or any of the arbitrary writing rules she can throw at you, without her insults and her derision, then you won’t have anything for her to fix when it’s her turn to actually be an editor. This one is a deal breaker.
In my classes we work on ear training. Both inner and outer ear training to hear the potential in your raw work. In small, supportive groups, we share raw work and help one another see the brilliance. This may not sound like much if you haven’t done it. But every single one of the writers that comes to me, every single one, is surprised about what we see in their work that they couldn’t see. The images, metaphors, themes, word choice, structure, craft we can see. So many of those pages would have been dismissed if we hadn’t been there to show them what was working.
We write together. We read raw work. We find the brilliance. Through that my writers find their voices.
It’s a completely different approach to writing and will allow you to find your voice within the story when you can switch from focusing on what isn’t working to learning to hear what is working. You know more than you think you do. Or should I say you know more than your inner critic thinks you do.
Change it up
This one is more of a tool than a necessity. But it works. There’s a wonderful energy that bursts through you and your writing when you change up your process. As soon as you’re super comfortable with the length of time you write, maybe the place you write, your rituals, and sometimes even the time you write, it’s time for a change.
Be bold and set a word count goal or a time count goal, or both. Track them. Get consistent. Then push the envelope. You’ll be amazed at what comes out your fingers when you change up the rut.
If you’re ready to get serious and you’re interested in finding out more about what you can do, drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org. I build writing warriors with community, craft, and positive feedback.
About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fifteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, see www.debmcleod.com.