I might be newly published but I have been working at the craft of writing for a while now, at least ten years. Around ten years ago I went on the canoe trip in this photograph – it was in the Shoalhaven and we had to get the canoe from the drop-off point to the launching point at the river far, far below. We could have hurtled it down the cliff and ended up with a broken canoe, but instead we lowered it slowly, cautiously, with ropes. Trees helped break the fall. Sometimes I still feel like I’m hurtling myself down cliffs and I have to remember to use the ropes, to pick my way cautiously. I have learned so much from other writers when they talk or write about their process so here is a small (and in no way exhaustive) list of things I have learned:
- Recognise what you are obsessed about and use those obsessions. Don’t be afraid to write about them too much. There is a reason that you are always returning to those themes: there is a reason for your preoccupation. If you are really passionate about them – who cares what other people say? Write about them.
- Not everyone will like your work. You don’t like every writer who has ever been published. Don’t be devastated by rejection, there are editors and publishers out there who might love what you are writing. Keep writing, keep reading, keep sending out work.
- Use criticism to improve. (I’ve written about how hard I used to find it to take criticism here.) Don’t take it personally, as difficult as that is. But conversely…
- Don’t take every piece of advice you are given. Sometimes people – very experienced people – will tell you a way to change a novel or a story that isn’t going to work. Find your instinct, what you believe to be the best thing for the story – and go with that.
- Always have a few different projects going which you can switch between when you feel stuck. Now I have a bunch of documents on my desktop which are just germs of ideas – one or two sentences which I can pick up when I am tired of working on something else.
- Rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I read my work out loud to myself when it is in its final stages. Sure the neighbours think I’m crazy, but I have picked up so many mistakes doing this, and improved my dialogue as well.
- Perser-fucking-vere. Nothing that is truly cherished in my life has come without some measure of pain. Writing included. I’ve learned to grit my teeth and work at it, even when it would feel better to individually pluck out every hair on my head.
What have you learned over years of applying yourself to a goal? Not writing, necessarily, but anything you have to work and work and work at?
How have you learned to improve with experience and insight?
As usual, you’ve captured the nub of the matter beautifully. And your thoughts marry well with a quote I found just the other day, and like enough to write down:
“… a creative life cannot be sustained by approval, any more than it can be destroyed by criticism…”
It’s from an article by Will Self, in The Guardian of 22 June 2013. Can’t remember the article though, just the phrase that stuck with me!
Thanks M, and a great quote. Approval and criticism are fleeting things anyway, like a piece of chocolate or a stubbed toe, they flood you with an emotion that is temporary.