Ever since I was twelve years old, I knew my heart belonged to writing and reading words. The first time I wrote a short story in my journal, I felt like I had a unique power to communicate, to relate to others. In fact, when my eye doctor put drops that would disable me to read anything for two hours, I literally cried. Thats when I knew what I couldn't live without- words.
Words were my escape, words were how I made sense of the world.
As much as passion counts, to convert that into something meaningful, we need work. However, as avid writers, we never make that jump from passion to profession.
Why's that? Well, for starters, its easy. In the instant digital world today, it's ridiculously easy to be someone. You can go to your Instagram right now and call yourself a cool hippy profession- writer, actor, designer, stylist- anything you want.
And when It came to writing, that's what I did. I wrote when I felt "inspired", and declared to the world that I was the next Hemingway.
That was two years ago; My journey from then to now has taught me invaluable lessons about writing. These lessons have helped me finish multiple projects- from my own book, a play, and multiple guests posts weekly.
Here are some of those lessons.
Lesson #1: You have to write everyday.
This may seem redundant, and if that's so, it should make you wonder how ridiculously important the lesson is. As avid rookie creatives, we create when we feel inspired. Now, whether that is at three in the morning on a Wednesday or after something significant that happened in our life, it doesn't really matter.
It doesn't matter because one- that one random creative session can only start new projects. Yes, it can help you start working on an idea for a book, but, if there's anything I've learned from personal experience (and reading about experiences of others), is that to turn an idea into something tangible, you need to work on it everyday. It doesn't really matter if you don't feel the same rush of emotions, if you don't feel like you just got fucked by Hemingway.
Its work and you get to it. You sit on your desk and you write- no questions asked.
Here's Stephen King in his book, On Writing:
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work
If you're thinking- but Monil, what do I write about?
As said in her book bird by bird- if you've survived childhood, you can write for the rest of your life. So write about your childhood. Or better- write about the scars your childhood gave you.
It doesn't matter- just fucking write.
Lesson #2: You have to read everyday
As creatives, we want to change lives through the work we do. And, starting out, most of the content we get is from our own experiences. The second very important source for that is books.
Books show us that people have already gone through what we're going through. In other words- somebody has already figured out what you're trying to figure out from your work.
So, our job, as artists of any kind, is to extend that work, to study it, and make it accessible to the mass.
Reading also helps us become better writers, by giving us a bigger vocabulary, by teaching us how to fragment sentences better, overall- making us find a voice of our own.
So, read everyday. It doesn't matter if you read a hundred pages or ten pages, just get out some time in your day and read. That's work too.
Lastly, if you're just starting out, this post about reading will help you too.
Lesson #3: Plan
A year ago I enrolled in an online course about guest blogging (taught by Jon Morrow). And, one of the most valuable lessons the program taught me was the habit of organizing your content.
To some degree, we all strong believe in the power of a blank page. We romanticize about the idea of content just flowing, and as beautiful as that sounds, organizing and planning your content helps you find a direction.
Whether you're working in a blog post, a book, or an essay for school, you have to consider somethings before you start penning down your words. These things include:
Goal: What do you hope your work (regardless of the type) will give? What form of truth is your work willing to speak?
Audience: The best writing is audience specific. To get a better sense of the audience, two things can be considered:
Fears/Frustrations: What keeps your reader up at night? In other words- what is your work providing that will help soothe some of the fears she has?
Goals/Dreams: Similarly, what keeps your reader wake up in the morning? What is your work providing that will make her want to read it?
Try to map this out before writing anything, see if it makes you understand your audience better, and thus- fine tune your work accordingly.
Lesson #4: Short Assignments
Two steps forward one step back. That is the mantra I use for achieving progress in my work.
Now, of course, we want to do everything- write books, start a blog, start freelancing, the problem, however, comes when these goals start becoming overwhelming.
In a way, because we want to do so many things, we end up doing nothing.
The solution, then, is to break down each project into short assignments and solely focus on that during a writing session. Now, once you do this, take another step and break it down further. So, if this week, my goal is to write this guest post, I will focus on writing one lesson each day.
Therefore, on Monday, my metric for success wasn't to write a full post. That'd be unrealistic. It was simply to draw an outline for the post. Once I've done that- I've succeeded.
The idea, here, isn't to make you feel good about yourself (although that's a fringe benefit that comes with it). Its to make you feel less overwhelmed and be consistent.
Anne Lamott uses a wonderful analogy to explain this concept, in her book Bird by Bird:
I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being."
Over to You
The road of an artist, as I'm sure you know, is full of rejections. That's inevitable. What we can change, however, is how we approach our practice- everyday with consistency. The goal (as strange as this sounds) isn't to get published. Its, as Anne says it brilliantly-
Write for the sake of writing. Not for publishing."