Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Reinventing Yourself as a Writer - 10 questions

Sometimes, you need to put everything on the table. Usually, writing that is meant to delight, provoke, and provide intense experiences does not come from incremental changes to your approach. It comes from daring change. It comes from reinvention.

If your writing life isn't everything you ever dreamed it would be, have the courage to leap into the unknown. Take a fresh look at yourself as a writer. Here are ten questions that might help:
  1. Are you confident? Voice may be the most valuable commodity for a writer, and it does not emerge if you are tentative. Yes, writers are moody. They have ups and downs. They have doubts. But finding a route to reckless abandonment and audacity at least one out of three times you sit down to write will transform your writing. Get mad. Get careless. Get your heart beating fast. And get the words down.
  2. Are you writing enough? Bad habits get in the way. Words become too precious. The internal editor comes alive. I have hundreds of posts in this blog to help you get the words flowing. Find a few to try. Then get to work. If your goal is 200 words, push yourself to write 300. If it is 2,000, write 3,000. At least once a week, write half again as many words as is your goal. Shake yourself up.
  3. Are you writing in the genre you should own? Almost all successful writers stick to one genre. It isn't necessarily the genre they love. It is the one where their talents show and they can stand out. Reconsider your choice in these terms, not imagined terms. Not based on friendships. Not based on sunk investments. Then read, write, and work toward mastery of the genre that fits who you are as a writer.
  4. Are you writing the best stories? Great stories are based on great concepts. With one sentence, you should be able to get someone from the chosen audience to say "wow." And "gimme." It's fine to write some chapters and do some plotting without working out what the logline should be, but don't write a whole book unless you have the time to restart it from scratch (which, apparently, is what Stephen King does). Pay real attention to that premise.
  5. Are you demanding enough? Writing is rewriting. Kristan Higgins says one of the most common mistakes for writers is sending out the manuscript before it's done. And done means getting the distance to look at your work objectively (usually by putting the manuscript aside), and then making it as good as it possibly can be. And keeping at it even when you are anxious to show it to the world.
  6. Are you taking chances? Write what you don't know how to write. Write things that will shock you family and friends. Write what hurts. Write what embarrasses you. If you spend a week without writing a scene that upsets you, feels wrong, scares you, or makes you squirm, you have wasted that week and taken a step backward in your life as a writer. It's supposed to be fun most of the time, but not all of the time.
  7. Is writing integrated into your life and identity? Do you see yourself as a real writer? Do you make notes, explore new issues, chat with fellow writers, tell people you're a writer, and find ways to turn your day-to-day chores into opportunities to grow as a writer? This is not a hobby or an avocation. It is who you are.
  8. Does writing matter enough? Your work should provide insights to you and your readers. It should change lives and lead to reinterpretations of your past. It should point toward the future. If your writing is not remaking you as a person, take up gardening
  9. Is writing the priority? Writing needs to be first on your to-do list most of the time. Yes, life can get in the way, but this is your calling. Treat the work as sacred. Don't let it become secondary for long.
  10. Are you reading challenging work in your genre? I believe in beach reads, and I have my own list of writers I turn to when I just want to have fun. But I also explore new writers and take on ones I know will be difficult, will impress me, will accomplish things that seem impossible, and will make we dissatisfied with my own work. At least half of everything you read should make you want to try something new, awaken you to higher standards, and goad you into pushing your limits.
In my own work, I look beyond these ten questions and challenge every aspect of my writing and my writing life. I create new plans and look for new books and courses. I put myself in uncomfortable positions. I invite disaster. Sometimes, things fall apart for a while. I stumble. I miss deadlines. I get frustrated. And scared. But I don't regret any of these attempts at reinvention, and I often discover talents, skills, and themes that I hadn't imagined. Art is so big, getting stuck in a rut -- even one that is bringing success -- is cheating yourself. Don't get comfortable.

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