Writer, Know Thyself

True Phone courtesy of Florian Seroussi. Some rights reserved.

I drew a blank, initially, when faced with this month’s topic: The Things They Don’t Tell You (Advice for Writers). I think what stomped me was the idea of revealing some great secret to which aspiring writers aren’t privy.

I honestly don’t think those kind of trade secrets exist anymore in publishing.

The indie publishing revolution has made writing and the publishing industry far more transparent than I ever imagined it would be. That’s because successful indie authors are doing something successful people in other industries rarely do. They are sharing all of their trade secrets. In books. In blogs. On indie publishing loops. In lectures.

Writers are some of the most generous souls I’ve met. Indie authors especially so. They are willing to open up a vein a share the lifeblood of their success. The lessons they learned at great cost, in terms of both time and expense. All one must do is ask. In minutes you’ll get a ton of responses to your question about the craft and business of writing.

However, the only problem with so much information being shared is that some writers approach each tidbit of wisdom as if it were Gospel.

It isn’t.Chaos inside by Hartwig HKD

It’s probably really good advice, and maybe it works for 90% of the people 99% of the time. Still, it doesn’t mean it will work for you.

Once we get stuck on an idea and on the shoulds (I should be writing 2,000 words a day or putting out 10 books a year) things go sideways quickly. Feeling like the dunce standing in the corner can be crushing, and it certainly isn’t conducive to creativity.

So here are two bits of advice to any writer, new or otherwise (and yes, take what works for you, and leave the rest):

If what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try another way of doing things.

For many years, I was so stuck on the idea that I was a pantser that I refused to consider outlining a story. I wasted a lot of time with that mindset, and I have at least a half-dozen half-finished novels to show for it. Turns out that I thrive when I do a little bit of outlining while allowing for some pantsing in between. And whenever I’m stuck, outlining gets me through the next scene, and the next one.

So while it isn’t productive to take every little bit of advice as your personal truth, it’s even worse to blindly reject advice when what you’re currently doing obviously isn’t working.

Writer Know Thyself

Give a new method or philosophy an honest, sustained effort. However, if upon doing so, it just doesn’t work for you, let it go. And be okay with it. That method or system may not be your thing. Keep reading, listening and asking questions. You’re sure to discover advice that works for you. Even then, don’t be afraid to adapt it to fit your personality and writing style.Be Yourself courtesy of Rory MacLeod. Some rights reserved.

Understand who you are as a person, and a writer, and incorporate that knowledge. I greatly admire all of the prolific, self-motivated dynamos who crank out tons of books each year that are truly awesome. I admire writers who put butt to chair and get it done without any outside encouragement or motivation. In fact, I wish I was like that. But the reality is: that ain’t me.

I’m more productive when I’m accountable to others: a publisher, my critique group, writing partners. I write faster when I’m in a timed session that gives me the feeling of competition. I can write more in one or two online #1K1HR sprints than I will sitting at my computer, without a stopwatch, for eight hours.

So I stopped beating myself up because I’m not those fabulous writers I admire. Instead, I am using the knowledge I have about myself to my advantage. I consulted with a writing coach to help get me out of a writing slump. Then I enlisted two writing accountability partners. We touch base with each other at least twice a week to share our weekly writing goals, possible obstacles and words written. We cheer each other’s successes and encourage one another through difficulties.

It’s helped each of us tremendously. We’ve probably written more in the month and a half of this experiment than we had in the previous six months. That is what works for me.

So what works for you? What advice have you tried to follow, but failed miserably? How have you adapted someone else’s advice to fit your personal style?

True Phone courtesy of Florian Seroussi. Some rights reserved.

Chaos inside courtesy of Hartwig HKD.

Be Yourself courtesy of Rory MacLeod. Some rights reserved.


Writer, Know Thyself — 17 Comments

    • Thanks, Brighton! Took me a while to figure that out. Felt like I was sitting in the corner wearing a dunce cap because someone else’s surefire method didn’t work for me. You live and you learn. 😉

  1. Speaking of knowing yourself, I recently read a great blog in which the writer, after just having had a baby and faced with limited time to write, decided that she had to be more productive if she was ever going to finish her book. So she started to keep track of the time of day she was most productive and the location where she wrote the most. Her findings surprised her. She discovered she was most productive in the afternoon, rather than in the morning as she thought. She also found that she wrote best when she turned off the Internet and went to a coffee shop. No distractions. Her most astounding discovery was that she got a lot more words on the page when she did some serious outlining. When she got a babysitter and sat down at the computer, she didn’t waste time figuring out what to write because she knew exactly what she wanted to do. But it all started by learning about herself. Good for you Reese, for figuring out what makes you a more productive writer.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Jana. I love that she put the time and effort in to find out what works best for her. That was definitely a worthwhile project to undertake.

  2. Pingback: Writing Advice I Wish I'd Known Back Then: Writer, Know Thyself -

  3. I used to set deadlines and all that but I finally realized that when life gets in the way, you just have to adapt. So I’m not as hard on myself as I used to be. Great post, Reese.

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