Some things I've learned by being a writer

The topic for this month relates to aging and maturity. What have we learned as writers thus far? To be honest, I’ve learned so much by being a writer – about the craft of my work, about creativity and community, loss and gain, connection and solitude. I could probably create a list of hundreds of little things I've learned so far, as being a writer is very much a part of who I am. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s also been my very favorite form of escape, from the time I was a kid to present day. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned – and certainly not exclusive to writing or being creative – is that in order to grow, one needs to be open to getting better in their craft. How does one do that? Writerly speaking, here are my top pieces of advice: 

1.    Read a lot. I know, I know. That’s pretty standard advice, but it’s true. Read what inspires you – and read it as a writer, seeking knowledge (not just as a leisure reader). Read what other writers are doing with form, structure, plot, genre, point of view, dialogue, etc., etc. Learn from other writers in this way. Identify what you feel works. 


2.    And speaking of reading as a writer, in order to grow, one needs to be open to learning. Where does one learn? It’s limitless, really – from talking with other writers, attending conferences and/or writer/book-related events, by reading craft books and articles... One can learn from people too – conversations with friends, strangers, family; from the process of sharing experiences and considering others’ perspectives. When I was writing Jane Anonymous, for example, I focused on the idea of loss and spoke with lots of people about that very topic, trying to deepen my understanding of different types of loss. 


3.    Understand that writing is subjective. Not everyone will love your work, and that’s okay. Remember tastes change. Needs in the market change. Opinions vary. I think it’s more productive to focus on creating your best work at this moment. What is your intention for your piece of work? Use the answer to that question to help inform your characters, your plot and subplots, your scene-work,you’re your overall story arc.


4.    Keep things fresh. I think to grow as a writer, one needs to try new things, outside their own writerly or readerly box. Try a different voice, a different form, a different structure... Read something outside your comfort zone, including alternate forms as well as genre (poetry, play, screenplay, podcast; sci-fi, memoir, dystopian, romance). Challenge yourself with freshness. I’m currently collaborating with another author on an adult work – something I’ve never done. I’m also collaborating on a middle grade graphic novel. Will something come of either project (publication-wise) in the end. I’m not sure. But, I’m learning a ton, keeping things fresh, and having fun.  


5.    To grow as a writer, I think it’s really, really, REALLY important to remind yourself that being a creative can be wonderful as one’s craft can give you so much back. But it’s also important to understand the vulnerability aspect that comes from being a creative – and, quite frankly, sometimes that vulnerability part can feel pretty sucky. When a project isn’t working, when someone doesn’t love your work, when you’re having a hard time finding an agent/an editor/an audience… It can be tough and disheartening, to say the least. In order to grow, one needs a solid support system of other creatives who know what it’s like to get kicked a few (or a thousand) times. And when I say this, I don’t mean finding that support just by perusing the posts of other writers on social media. If you go on social media, you will likely see a very different perception of creativity (and reality) – one that’s far more glamorous than it actually is. I talk to writers of all levels of their career, and something I’ve learned: we all share many of the same fears, concerns, vulnerabilities, writing/publishing issues, regardless of how popular or unpopular our work is in a given moment. 


6.    Lastly, in order to grow as a writer, it’s important to keep writing (obviously). Keep moving forward, getting better in your craft, while being supported by others. Don’t let anyone ever tell you “you can’t” or to stop. Always remember, you say “when.”   



  1. That is SO TRUE about continuing to learn. The industry changes around you. You've got to learn as you go.


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