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Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer - Your WRITES

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Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer

Writers aren't generally known as the happiest lot. As a recent Guardian survey of some top writers shows, even the best ones don't particularly enjoy it all that much. And in case you think this is a new development, an 1842 letter from Edgar Allen Poe to his publisher recently surfaced in which he was found apologizing for drinking so much and begging for money.

But believe it or not, writing and happiness can, in fact, go together. For our Thursday entry in Positivity Week, here are ten ways for a writer to stay positive:

1. Enjoy the present. Writers are dreamers, and dreamers tend to daydream about the future while concocting wildly optimistic scenarios that involve bestsellerdom, riches, and interviews with Ryan Seacrest. In doing so they forget to enjoy the present. I call this the "if only" game. You know how it goes: if only I could find an agent, then I'll be happy. When you have an agent, then it becomes: if only I could get published, then I'll be happy. And so on. The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you're actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It's found in the present. Because writing is pretty great -- otherwise why are you doing it?

2. Maintain your integrity. With frustration comes temptation. It's tempting to try and beat the system, whether that's by having someone else write your query, lying to the people you work with, or, you know, concocting the occasional fake memoir. This may even work in the short term, but unless you are Satan incarnate (and I hope you're not) it will steadily chip away at your happiness and confidence, and your heart will shrivel and blacken into something they show kids in health class to scare them away from smoking. Don't do it.

3. Recognize the forces that are outside of your control. While it's tempting to think that it's all your fault if your book doesn't sell, or your agent's fault or the industry's fault or the fault of a public that just doesn't recognize your genius, a lot of times it's just luck not going your way. Chance is BIG in this business. Huge. Gambling has nothing on the incredibly delicate and complex calculus that results in a book taking off. Bow before the whims of fate, because chance is more powerful than you and your agent combined.

4. Don't neglect your friends and family. No book is worth losing a friend, losing a spouse, losing crucial time with your children. Hear me? NO book is worth it. Not one. Not a bestseller, not a passion project, nothing. Friends and family first. THEN writing. Writing is not an excuse to neglect your friends and family. Unless you don't like them very much.

5. Don't Quit Your Day Job. Quitting a job you need to pay the bills in order to write a novel is like selling your house and putting the proceeds into a lottery ticket. You don't have to quit your job to write. There is time in the day. You may have to sacrifice your relaxation time or sleep time or reality television habit, but there is time. You just have to do it.

6. Keep up with publishing industry news. It may seem counterintuitive to follow the news of a business in which layoffs currently constitute the bulk of headlines. But it behooves you to keep yourself informed. You'll be happier (and more successful) if you know what you're doing.

7. Reach out to fellow writers. No one knows how hard it is to write other than other people who have tried to do it themselves. Their company is golden. If you're reading this it means you have an Internet connection. Reach out and touch a writer. And plus, the Internet allows you to reach out to writers without smelling anyone's coffee breath.

8. Park your jealousy at the door. Writing can turn ordinary people into raving lunatics when they start to believe that another author's success is undeserved. Do not begrudge other writers their success. They've earned it. Even if they suck.

9. Be thankful for what you have. If you have the time to write you're doing pretty well. There are millions of starving people around the world, and they're not writing because they're starving. If you're writing: you're doing just fine. Appreciate it.

10. Keep writing. Didn't find an agent? Keep writing. Book didn't sell? Keep writing. Book sold? Keep writing. OMG an asteroid is going to crash into Earth and enshroud the planet in ten feet of ash? Keep writing. People will need something to read in the resulting permanent winter.


Happy Writing

Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. – John Adams


Golden Rules
October 13, 2009

There is a lot of advice about writing a novel that goes way beyond correcting sentence structure and grammar. Piles and piles of books that help you get into the rhythm and mind set of a writer to ensure your success. Having spent years reading about the do’s and don’ts of writing a novel, here is a collection of some of the most useful advice I have encountered.

And maybe someday you might write a list just like this and include my advice. Ah, the circle of life.

1. Always Write – I think writer’s block to some degree is inevitable and, rather unfortunately, unavoidable. You’re unhappy with the dialogue, there’s a problem with continuity, you halt progress for edits and rewrites, you have an idea for a different story, or the end of your novel just seems so dang far away. There are many reasons for writer’s block. None of which is predictable. But don’t stop. When you stop thinking and behaving like a writer, you won’t be one anymore.

Writing is like a work-out routine (and if you’re like me, it’s one of your New Year’s resolutions to write a novel). It’s hard to take that first big step and you put it off day after day, week after week. But you finally do it. You start writing, start working-out, and it’s tough. Really tough. You don’t think you can do it and might as well quit. But keep going. No pain, no gain. And it gets easier with regularity and routine. But when you stop that work-out for a couple days, couple weeks or longer, what happens when you start working out again? You have to go through the same struggle to get re-accustomed.

But always write. Find something to write. Keep a journal, organize research, write a scene you would like to include later, or coughwriteablogaboutwritingcough. It might seem stupid to write something completely unrelated to your novel, but it’s also stupid for a marathon runner to be a couch potato in between races.

And as the great motivational and over-muscular health-nuts say; YOU CAN DO IT!

2. Be a Writer – I could never understand how one becomes a writer. Do you have to post an announcement in the newspaper, does someone need to give you permission to be a writer, or are you just born with it? The correct answer is none of the above. The moment you make a decision to write, ta-da you’re a writer.

But it really isn’t enough to call yourself a writer, you have to be one too. Act like one. Write all the time (see above). Set aside some time on a regular basis and let everyone know that you’re writing, working, and to please not disturb you. We all know writing is a lot of work, so treat it like a job. Sure it’s easy not to show up for work when you’re the boss, but you’re great novel won’t write itself. Life will always try to interrupt. You have to tell it that it will have to wait another two hours because you have work to do. You’ll be writing. Is there someone else who’s trying to disturb you? Let them know what’s going on to and designate them to take care of things while you’re working. Are they the problem? Go somewhere else where you know you won’t be interrupted frequently.

Don’t think you have time? Find time. I have an hour long train commute that I devote to writing to and from work. Analyze your schedule and find a time that you could utilize writing. If there is no opportune time, schedule yourself a time to write and stick to it.

Some other good advice about being a writer:

Keep a notebook and pen. ALWAYS!

Set goals for yourself each time you write. Word count, finish chapter two, etc.

You might not find specific answers in a book or Google, but don’t be afraid to do some research.

Save your work frequently and try to avoid the temptation to delete old or unused work.

Get other people involved. Share your ideas or ask them to read your work. Don’t be shy.

Take pride in your work.

3. Don’t Listen to Any Advice – I made a great effort to learn about being a writer, but until I did it for myself it was all just theory, hints, and tips. While the advice I have shared is advice that I follow, it doesn’t always work. What might be useful to one writer is not necessarily helpful to the next. What might have helped you through writer’s block last time might not help you again the next time. The only person you need to listen to is you. Find what works for YOU!

Happy writing!

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