Ten Writing Rules That Will Improve Your Life
Stick to a daily word count. Take more writing classes. Write twenty more queries. Yada Yada. What are the writing resolutions that are really important in terms of achieving success and having a reasonably satisfying work life?
Here are ten "rules" I try hard to live by when it comes to my writing. They don't all come naturally, but I strive to remember them, especially when I'm struggling.
1. Have more fun: Don't forget that you started writing in the first place because you fell in love with stories. While writing is hard work, it's should be fun, too--at least sometimes. Write silly things, stories you'll never sell. Write because you love the sound of the language. Write because it makes you feel good.
2. Write what is meaningful to you: Don't be a slave to the marketplace. When you write from the heart, you write with tangible energy that readers can feel. It can be so tempting to write what you think readers want to read, but that can make your writing lifeless. The most exciting writing is work that takes risks and is heartfelt.
3. Be yourself: Stop the comparisons. They don't help. They will poison your mind rather than help you be productive, experiment, flourish, and grow. This is one of the hardest things to do, but it's worth the effort to teach yourself to avoid judging yourself according to what others have achieved.
4. Give back: Avoid the me-me-me syndrome. If you are generous to other writers, you will feel great (and it might even be useful to you in the future). Donate your time to help run a literary magazine. Give free advice to a new writer. Volunteer at an event. Take the time to give helpful feedback, even when you're rushed.
5. Stay curious: Be open and childlike in your curiosity. Something might pop out at you that will become the nugget around which you build your next oeuvre. Work on continually learning and growing.
6. Protect your psyche: Creative types are typically thin skinned. A better way to say that is: we are sensitive, observant, empathetic, open, impressionable, obsessed, confused, risk-takers. Treat yourself kindly. Being a writer takes real courage.
7. Focus on the positive: Create a feel-good sheet to tack up next to your workspace. All those positive comments, encouraging quotes, excellent reviews, awards, pats on the back should be put to good use. Look up often from your keyboard and remind yourself that your work is meaningful, and not just to you.
8. Apply for a residency: So what if you have no time, no money, too many kids, an inflexible job. If you apply and you get it, you can figure out all those details later. Or not--but you'll have the satisfaction of having been chosen. Just do it. It may be just the thing you need to re-energize.
9. Celebrate small successes: Pushing yourself and having high standards is all very well, but take the time to enjoy your every success, no matter how small. You earned it with your hard work.
10. Read a lot, and widely: It will help you with #1.
Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at katrinschumann.com, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.See other articles by Katrin Schumann
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