These are 7 of the most illuminating pieces of advice I’ve ever received from writers about writing. This is wisdom that shaped my career and life (probably more than these advice-givers even know).
I remember each of the following conversations with vivid clarity. I can see exactly where I was when each of these wise people told me what they told me.
In some cases, their advice turned on an immediate light: I got the point and made a significant change in my life right away. Sometimes it took me years before I understood what they meant. More than once, I didn’t take the advice — and learned why it would have been a good idea later.
One thing they all have in common: I’ve never forgotten them. These are gold.
1. Be more positive. Cynicism, negativity and writerly angst doesn’t help. That whole “I have to be unhappy to write” thing is a myth. No you don’t. Being negative hurts your writing – it doesn’t help it. You will be a more brilliant writer if you work on becoming a healthy person.
Heather Jessup, author of The Lightning Field
2. Don’t do an MFA for your writing. Be a dog walker. Be a fire fighter. Work in a kitchen. Have real experiences. Live a rich, varied life: that is where your material will come from.
Nikki Tate, author of The StableMates young fiction series
3. Don’t go to university for your writing – go on silent retreats instead. Meditate. People will think you are crazy or weird for doing this. Do it anyway.
Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and Old Friend From Far Away
4. Write by hand. And doodle while you work. Use a separate piece of paper (or your margins) to scribble, paint, or draw when you don’t know what to write. It is good to just slowly and simply write the letters of the alphabet. An important part of your brain can’t tell the difference between drawing the letters of the alphabet and “making art.” When you use your hands to make marks on a page, you are making art. This releases your best writing.
Lynda Barry, author of What It Is and Picture This
(for more on this awesome theory, watch this TED talk by Sunni Brown)
5. The very best time to write is right now, before you’ve had anything published, before anyone knows who you are and what your voice sounds like. You can write without any publisher (or reader) expectations. You can do whatever you want. ENJOY THIS TIME! As soon as you publish a book, that changes.
John Gould, author of Kilter and Seven Reasons Not to Be Good
6. Just because you publish something doesn’t mean it’s good. Publication shouldn’t be your goal. Do you want to write something incredible and groundbreaking? Don’t look to publication for that. That goes beyond publication.
Zsuzsi Gartner, author of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
7. You don’t have to have children. There are a lot of people having children out there: there’s no shortage. It’s hard to be a writer and a mother, and you aren’t less of a person if you don’t sign up for that particular life challenge. It’s okay if you choose to write and other people choose to have children instead.
Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats and All Over Creation
I hope that least one or two of these gems ring out for you, too. If they do, and you know other people who need to hear them, please share this letter widely.
In writing and life,
Causes Sarah Selecky Supports
The Farm Sanctuary
Nature Canada Bird Conservation
Best Friends Animal Society