The Truth About Writing

I’ve been writing since I could form letters with a pencil, and before. I used to draw picture books for my father to sell in his bookstore when I was 4 and 5. It helps to have connections. English Composition was always my best subject, I won the awards I tried for (sometimes I wonder if anyone else entered, though), and frankly, I had rather great expectations of myself. Pride goeth before a fall.

I probably should have majored in something to do with writing in college, but I guess my “practical” side won out and I earned a teaching degree. I did not at the time understand the value of building a network, so I didn’t have one. I decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that 2008 would be the year I was published. It was just me and the 15 pound Writer’s Guide. I did not succeed (although I wouldn’t count it a total failure; more on that later.) However, three weeks after my son was born in 2009, I made a rash, sudden decision to strap him to my chest and attend a weeklong writer’s conference hours away from home. Several of the things I learned there still effect me every day now, five years later.

Don’t Insult Your Audience

I’m not sure why there is this human craving to have a huge audience and important influence, and I’m sorry to say that I have it at times. Insofar as I want a bigger blog readership so that I might actually earn an income, well, it makes sense; but the fact is, I want my words to change history. My vanity is enormous, I’m ashamed to say. What I mean by “don’t insult your audience” can be summed up in this: it doesn’t matter if only your mom reads your blog. Maybe she is the one you were meant to influence. Don’t say, “Only five or six people care what I have to say”, because don’t those five or six people matter? Aren’t they part of this world you want to make a difference in? It is a privilege to have any kind of voice that anyone listens to, and any platform to project it from. Value that, be humbled by it, and treat it like the treasure it is.

Many Writers Do Not Make a Living Wage Writing

I say 2008 was not a total flop because, although I wasn’t published, I did win a couple of contests (first place in one, whose sponsor kindly compared me to Steinbeck.) In addition to a little bit of validation, I was awarded about $200. I was happy to have the $200, but I was truly trying to make a meaningful financial contribution to our family. Clearly, I could make more working at McDonald’s, though I might not find it as fulfilling. However, when I went to the conference and met other writers, and especially when I heard the speakers, all professional writers, it became clear that I should be happy for my $200; many hadn’t made that much. I began to understand that making a living by writing is not something that often happens suddenly, as in “We’re delighted to offer you $30,000 for your manuscript!”

Publication Still “Counts” Even If You Don’t Get Paid For It

I mean, why wouldn’t it? But, nonetheless, it hadn’t in my mind. I’m glad I got over this; some regular writing I’ve done for free has worked into paid work. My one big (to me!) print credit was a full page magazine article that I was not paid for. It’s a thing of beauty, anyway, in a national magazine, and I’m happy to list it in my credentials. Even though I wasn’t paid in cash, I was compensated to some extent by the endorsement their publication of my piece implies.

You’re Not Going To Love Everything You Write

Writing is work. When deadlines meet real life, not everything you submit is going to be your best work no matter how hard you try. (Although being under the gun actually helps me come up with good material sometimes.) I really hate that–my vanity again– but sometimes you just have to live with it. I think this is why I struggle with blogging; coming up with a daily post means that many of my posts are not the polished, witty, insightful pieces that I want to put out there. I find that humiliating, and I find it hard to promote work that I don’t consider my best. I also find it a cold, hard truth that people don’t necessarily respond the most to work I consider my best. Perhaps in a print book, it might be different, but the fact is that more people online want to know how to finish a floor than care about my meditations on grace. Sad but true.

These are just some of the things I’ve learned, from the conference and beyond. I’d love to learn from you!

What’s the most useful thing you’ve learned as a writer?

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