This is a picture of me when I was around 17 or 18, the age when I first wanted to be a writer.
There aren't many pictures of me as a teenager, so I don't have a lot to choose from.
Yes, that's a scarf and Pink Floyd poster on the wall.
Yes, I'm smoking.
Yes, I look like a stoner.
I know! Embarrassing!
But I wanted to come up with a list of advice for this young fool about writing all these years later in hopes it might help other writers at any stage of their career.
This is a list of things I wish I had known when I was first starting out as a writer and things that I still need to remind myself of from time to time.
It's a work in progress. I will be adding to it, updating it, and occasionally changing it.
Don't expect to be picked out of the crowd. Nobody cares about you and your writing. Insert yourself into the writing community. Or better yet build the community you want to be a part of.
SUPPORT OTHER WRITERS
Read and support the writers that you admire. Show up to their launches. Write reviews or blog posts about their books. Share their books on social media. If you can't afford their books, borrow them from the library. Introduce yourself to them at a reading (if you are able—I know it's hard to do).
VOLUNTEER BUT NOT TOO MUCH
Volunteer for something but don't over-volunteer yourself. Your volunteering should not take over your life or impact your writing. I have made this mistake. Volunteering should enhance and help you connect with your peers. Contact a journal you like and see if they need any editorial help. But show up at their events and get to know them first. Random emails out of the blue seldom pay off.
START YOUR OWN THING
Start something of your own. A blog. A writing group. A chapbook. A reading series. Find ways to connect with writers in real life in your community.
CREATE DEADLINES AND STRUCTURE
If you are having trouble with deadlines take a course. I do this all the time. It is very difficult when you are out of an academic setting or if you don't have a publishing contract to set deadlines for yourself and meet them. There are terrific continuing education courses offered through colleges and universities. Many are online if you don't live in a large community. Many published writers offer private live and online workshops. Sometimes there are free workshops at local libraries or community centres.
DON'T LET REJECTION DETERMINE YOUR VALUE
Try not to let rejection determine your value as a writer and human being. If you are rejected from something you really were invested in know that it will take about a week for the pain to go away. Know that you will be knocked down but you will be able to get up. Acceptances don’t necessarily mean that the best writing has been picked. Best is subjective. Never forget this. Writing is picked for many reasons. Often there are literary trends or the publisher has published too many family saga stories or they don’t like stories about bee keepers. It’s often random. Try not to take it personally. If you find yourself constantly being rejected then do something to get objective feedback (hire an editor, take a course, visit a writer-in-residence, or get a trusted writing friend to critique your work) and try to build your skills and improve your writing.
EARN A LIVING DOING SOMETHING ELSE
You must find a way to make a living that you can live with. Your writing will not support you financially. Your writing will not support you financially.
Make honest connections with people in your community. Be wary of users. Be wary of people who want to befriend you too easily or quickly. On the other hand, don’t treat people as a means to an end. Networking is not about using people. If you do it right, you are just making friends with likeminded people. Once you see people as tools, they will see through that. Invest in people not in what people can do for you.
CONTROL YOUR EGO
No one cares about your career. While self-promotion has become acceptable on social media, no one wants to go to a party or launch and be on the receiving end of your CV list. If someone asks you what you are doing, then tell them but be aware you are speaking to another writer who has their own angst about their own career. You are not the centre of anyone’s life but your own.
TRY TO KEEP JEALOUSY AT BAY
Try not to determine your worth by using someone else’s career as a yardstick for your own success. Jealousy is a waste of time. Everyone will have their own path. There is no age that you should be published by. Focus on yourself and mind your own business. Chances are you won’t win awards for your writing. If you are published, you will hardly be read. Be able to live with not being the most special writer in the room because you won’t be. You have to be in this for something other than external validation. If something good happens, be grateful for it, and be pleasantly surprised but don’t expect it. Support the success of others—genuinely—not because you expect something from them.
IT'S OKAY TO BURN SOME BRIDGES
There will times when bridges need to be burned (i.e. if we are dealing with racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc.—then burn them all). Over the course of my writing career I've been so afraid to burn bridges I've behaved in ways I regret. I let people walk all over me. I didn't stand up for myself. Don't be so afraid of burning bridges that you allow others to harm, use, or take advantage of you. Your writing career is not worth more than your dignity.
BUILD GOOD RELATIONSHIPS
When working with people, know there will be disagreements. Know there will be people that you don’t like. You might not agree with an editor’s note for instance. Avoid sweating the small stuff when working with editors. Avoid preciousness. Pick your battles. Control your ego. This is especially true in the film community. If you are difficult and self-important, then people won't want to work with you.
DON'T BE PASSIVE
Don’t be passive. Being overly passive or polite or approachable can be as harmful as having an out-of-control ego. The key is to live somewhere in the middle. I have shot myself in the foot many times out of the fear of ruffling feathers or feeling like I don’t deserve to exist as a writer. When you need to, speak up. Try to remember that you are of value even if it doesn’t feel that way. Your work is of value. Your opinion is of value. Your concerns are of value.
LEARN TO SAY NO
I used to be a yes person and now I'm a no person. I encourage more people especially women to be no people because usually what you get asked to do is work for free for someone else. I used to say yes all the time for fear I would lose some great opportunity. But usually there is no great opportunity, and you end up feeling depleted and resentful. No one is going to pay you more or respect you at your job or in your career because you constantly work for free or say yes to things you don't want to do. A small medical crisis forced me to say no a couple of years ago, and at first it was terrible. I was filled with guilt and was distressed all the time. But after the first few times saying no, I realized just how liberating it is to say no and to only spend time on things I really want to and are able to do—no matter who it is—my employer, a friend, someone I admire. When you say no the world doesn't fall apart because, hey, you're not that important. And the person asking will just ask someone else. I wish I could shake my younger self and say stop it. Stop saying yes all the time.
DON'T UNDERESTIMATE PEOPLE
Don’t underestimate people. I have been on the receiving end of being underestimated. It does not feel good. I have underestimated people too and I deeply regret it. Underestimating people is about wanting to feel superior. Don’t do this. People can learn and grow and develop and change. We are never just one thing at one time. Give people the room to be better and to surprise you.
TAKE CREATIVE RISKS
Don't do the same thing over and over because it worked and you liked the praise. Try something new and be willing to fail. You'll learn more from your failures than from your successes.
DON'T SIT AT A DESK ALL THE TIME
Make sure that you get exercise and leave the house at least once a day. Strengthen your core. You will have a bad back if you don't.
This list is a work in progress. I will be adding to it, updating it, and occasionally changing it.
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Originally posted by Kathryn Mockler, October 1, 2018
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