Everyone isn’t called to be a writer, but I believe that everyone is called to tell their story – and what better way to do that than to write it?
Whether you’re just beginning your writing/storytelling journey from scratch, half-way through your book proposal, thinking about starting blog or just buying your first journal, it can be a difficult process to navigate without the right mindset. Get your bearings with the 10 commandments I’ve come to learn as a growing writer and storyteller that have helped me stay motivated and consistent(ish).
1. Thou shalt not judge your stories (cradle them)
As writers, we are often our biggest critics. We doubt our craft, judge our amateur mistakes and expect every draft to be a masterpiece, but not until you learn to love your words. Stop being so hard on yourself. Everyone has to start somewhere.
2. Thou shalt not interrupt your creative flow with editing (edit later)
I wish someone had told me this in the beginning. I was famous for writing and editing at the same time. I’d jot down a line, pause and draw a line through half of it. I was killing my creative process, slowing the soul dump that was taking place on the page. Let yourself get it all out on paper. It’s there that gems are discovered. Go back with a fine tooth comb after the creative dust has settled a bit. Your first priority is to the page.
3. Thou shalt not rely on inspiration to start writing (schedule it)
This is a big one. When I first started writing intentionally, I thought that if I didn’t have a great deal of inspiration, I wouldn’t write anything of great value. Wrong. Some of best lines, stanzas and verses have come from the disciplined act of writing in my journal or in a daily notebook just for the sake of writing. When you write by habit instead of by an unpredictable muse (inspiration, energy, synergy, recent experience), you train your mind and your creativity to show up on cue and repeat. Don’t wait for the right moment to write, create it.
4. Thou shalt not expect everyone to understand your work (surprise them)
Let me say that again: everyone will not get it. Your poetry, your novels, your memoirs, your songs, or self-help books have an audience. Your tribe is waiting, but that doesn’t mean that uncle Bennie, your high school bestie or even your own parents will understand everything you create. Do you welcome feedback? Of course, is all of it necessary for your growth? Not necessarily. Use wisdom. Prayer regularly. If you feel the call to write, find yourself jotting down memories, quotes or character dialogue, and even if you’re just thinking about these things, you’re a writer. Don’t look for acceptance or approval. Find or create a community that waits for your next post and that you feel both honored and responsible to share your writing with on purpose.
5. Thou shalt not stop at draft 1 (revise.revise.revise.)
I’ve had quite a few moments in my 24 years when I thought my first draft was ‘all that.’ I turned in those papers with a smile, confident in my ability to move the reader to give me an A++ for my superior effort. That’s didn’t happen. Instead, I would get a paper full of red marks reminding me of the simple errors – human errors that are common to the first draft: spelling, incorrect word use, auto-correct (that you didn’t intend), missing words and lofty sentences. The most I would get on one of these ‘fly-boys,’ as I fondly call them was a note from the professor: “Good start…” Take it from me, multiple drafts means multiple chances to perfect your ideas.
6. Thou shalt not wait to start writing your book (write now)
This is something I’m still working through. I have so many ideas for books, chapbooks and the like, but not enough time to get them all done as quickly as I’d like. But that shouldn’t stop me or you from starting. After doing my research on the book pitching process, I learned that I don’t need to write my whole book to work with an agent, but that doesn’t mean that the book ends there. I am committed to to finishing what God has starting with each of the moments that have shaped my story. If you don’t tell your story, someone else will or even worse – they won’t. Start now.
7. Thou shall not sell your soul or the soul of your work (passion over profit)
As I continue to learn more and more about the business of writing, it’s very tempting to only focus on the monetary rewards (or lack thereof) instead of staying true to your passion. Yes, passions can be profitable, but I believe that once you marry your passions – give them the time, priority and belief that they deserve – you will have something worthy of sharing and worthy of monetary value to add to the success of committing to creating your work of art.
8. Thou shalt not write in a vacuum (be well read)
Though I strongly advice against over saturating your inbox with blog and other types of media outlet subscriptions (thank God for Unroll.me), I do believe in developing our craft through the very lens we want to craft with our own stories: reading. Reading about the craft and sport of writing as well as the works of great, widely and scarcely known writers is a great way to expand your knowledge and challenge yourself to become a better writer on a daily basis. I know you may be wondering, why read the scarcely (not uber popular) writers if I read the big guys and girls? I’m glad you asked.
What I have found in my thousands upon thousands of hours reading, googling and stumbling upon the lesser known writers of the world is that talent is talent. Large platform or shaping platform. Good writing is good writing. There are quite a few self-published authors I adore more than the traditionally published. There are more off-the-wall, brutally honest and gut punching emotion filled words on blogs than in some books. Diversify your idea of a ‘good read,’ and some of the magic might just rub off on you.
9. Thou shalt not skip the process (bloom slowly)
If you stay on this blog long enough, you’ll realize that the word, ‘process’ comes up a lot. It’s a word that I have hated, admired, refused, had dinner with and eventually said “I do” to in the past 12 months. This is the meat of every story. Everyone tells us about the A and Z of their claim to fame, but what about the E,F,G? What about the times where you doubted yourself, when you fell in love with a God you couldn’t see, or that time that you were actually the problem? You can’t skip these intimate details of your story or the intimate moments of the writing journey. Embrace your beginning, celebrate every small victory, remember where you were six months ago and keep writing your way. .
10. Thou shalt not compare yourself or work to others (there’s only one you)
I touched on this some in number 8, but what I have learned in my quest to find more writers in my age bracket and similar writing stage is that there are a lot of good writers/bloggers out there. Ones that are more detailed, experienced and comfortable in their writing skin than I am. At first, it was a little depressing. Here I was thinking that my little blog was doing something spectacular, and then I get to Blog A, and Blog B, and Blog C and found myself rethinking my passion.
That’s the wrong attitude to have for so many reasons. A) God had gifted each of us with unique perspectives and gifts that only we can deliver. B) Those other blogs are not supposed to discourage me. C) They are there to remind me that my gift is needed. That there’s someone on the other side of the world and maybe even in your backyard who is waiting to hear your story. Waiting for the confirmation that their life has value. Waiting for you to press ‘publish’ and bring a little light into a dark world. Pick a few silent writer mentors, subscribe to their blogs, use them for inspiration and leisurely reading and unsubscribe from everything else that makes you feel inadequate or insecure. Believe in your words.
And one more thing:
***Thou shalt not become passive about your passion (be intentional) Schedule your writing. Make a habit of creating at a certain time. Miss a few social events to reach a life event of meeting your goals. Don’t live in a vacuum, but don’t let distractions keep you unfocused. Plan well and execute even better. You can do this.
To our becoming,