Writers never have an easy time of it. Often either unpaid or underpaid, they spend a lot of time toiling away in solitude just for the love of writing. Even when they’re successful, gaining publishing deals and fame, they’re not always all that happy.
Anne Lamott writes of her experience of writing success: “…I found myself stoned on all the attention, and then lost and derailed, needing a new fix every couple of days and otherwise going into withdrawal. My insides became completely uninhabitable, as if I’d wandered into a penny arcade with lots of bells ringing and lights flashing and lots of junk food, and I’d been there too long…”
And yet, writers continue to write. And everyone’s happy that they do. And because the world of writing is full of challenges both professional and emotional, sometimes they need support and advice about how to avoid some habits that are actually harmful for writers.
So, how not to become “derailed”, how to write better, how to be more productive and how to value your work and creativity as much as you should? Just keep away from these habits:
Rely on cliches or stereotypes
Writing, whether it’s a work of poetry, fiction, an essay or a blog post, is an art. The goal of art is to express something from a new perspective – yours. It’s difficult to avoid cliches because we’re exposed to them so often that they’re easy to pluck out of the subconscious and use instead of sweating it out to find a more original way to express something. George Orwell avoided even using the word cliché to tell writers to avoid cliches: “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” Check out this list of 681 cliches.
The same goes for creating stereotypes. Art is supposed to inspire us to challenge our beliefs and our perceptions. Creating stereotypes not only fails to achieve that, but leaves you with flat characters and an uninspiring message.
Start writing when you land a writing job
This one mainly applies to freelancers. If you want a job as a writer, you must first write. Write for yourself. Write a blog, write stories or articles on an area of expertise or interest. This is how you build a portfolio to show to potential clients, so you can land a job that is perfect for your writing style and background. It’s also how you become a better writer. By committing yourself to writing, you’ll build the skills and the credentials you need to be a successful one.
Forcing yourself to write on topics that don’t inspire you because it’s your job is pretty much the worst introduction to writing life that I can think of. It may even put you off writing forever. Write for pleasure first and see what direction that takes you.
The writing bubble, that place your mind slips into when you’re in the flow, is a delicate environment that needs your protection. It’s constantly under attack from phone calls, children, spouses, family, friends and neighbours. But its most powerful enemies are Facebook, Twitter, email, scrolling and surfing.
These are the types of interruptions that are so insidious because they’re all integrated into your laptop where your sacred moments of writing are supposed to occur. Some writers have a whole other computer for writing that doesn’t even have the internet on it. You can also install an app that blocks the internet while you’re writing.
Underestimate the importance of a schedule
This is a big issue. Think about an athlete training for an event. They have a training schedule to adhere to. Otherwise, they’ll never get in shape. If you don’t set a schedule and only decide to write when you feel like it, you’re writing life will be pretty miserable. If you’re writing a book, you may never finish.
If you write articles, you’ll spend too many nights running on adrenaline, having wasted hours procrastinating and producing nothing. Ernest Hemingway woke up early every morning to write his daily 500 words. Joyce Carol Oates writes before breakfast, sometimes writing for hours if she’s inspired and only stopping for breakfast well into the afternoon.
Writers can have (semi) normal lives. They can have children. They can have relationships. They can have other jobs. They can go to the gym or to yoga classes or to Jui Jitsu classes. They can cook. They can have friends. But they can’t have any of these things AND write if they don’t make a schedule.
Say ‘Yes’ to every opportunity
Don’t say ‘Yes’ to projects that pay poorly or that suck your will to live. You’re probably writing because you like to write and you’re good at it. Maybe you’re even writing because it’s your dream. That’s great. But is your dream getting paid slave wages while writing on topics that don’t interest you? There are a lot of interesting writing jobs out there that will pay well for a good writer.
Taking jobs that exploit your time and your talent aren’t even good ways to build your portfolio. How can you hold your head up high and brag about how you wrote articles for $1 for some outsourcing company in the Philippines? Instead of wasting your time on such projects, invest your time in writing on topics that interest you and looking for companies that will pay you well. That’s a much smarter investment and one that’s worthy of your time and creativity.