Sunday, January 8, 2012

Things I Have Learned, Take Three

Welcome to the third installment of Things I Have Learned (ooo, scary font!), and it's inspired by a flattering e-mail I received from eCollegeFinder. They have nominated Unwritten for a Top Writing Blogs Award! Can I hear a WOOT???

Thank you.

No, really, I have ALL of you fabulous authors, readers, and commenters to thank for this award. Without your participation, all you'd have is my babbling and the sounds of lonely crickets. Cheep, cheep. I've had a blast interviewing writers, reviewing books, and hosting contests, along with my rambling. The truth is, y'all make me look good. I hope to keep this a hopping, happening place that just keeps growing as I hope to do as a writer.

So for today's installment, I'm answering a question posed by eCollegeFinder.

They asked: 

What advice can you offer students aiming to improve their writing acumen?

First of all, let's define acumen. The definition says it is: keenness and depth of perception, discernment, or discrimination especially in practical matters

This to me says savvy. Savvy? This means gaining wisdom, and wisdom usually comes with experience. In terms of writing (and everything in life) I usually learn things the hard way. Yet, every challenge nourishes wisdom (and therefore savvy), and along the way, I learn to discern what works and what doesn't. I'll share a few of these tidbits now.

1. Writing is Work--"But I love it", you say. "I wake up and can hardly wait to write the next bestseller. It doesn't feel like work!"

 My answer: Maybe not...yet. If it doesn't feel like work, chances are you're still writing as a hobby. And don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's super fun to get a spark of an idea and sit down to see what pours out from the keyboard, even if nary a soul but you ever reads it. 

But, if you really want to write for publication (no matter how small the venue), writing then becomes more than just a hobby. It's a real job. It requires time-scheduling, planning, the actual writing of course, and editing. LOTS of editing. When you're writing for the sake of appealing to an audience of any kind, you have to have the mindset of writing as a career. It probably won't be your primary occupation until you're JK Rowling rich, but if you don't take it seriously, devote enough time and effort, honor deadlines and other activities that go along with it (promo, etc), you're gonna remain a hobby writer. 

In other words, if you want any recognition or compensation for your word-crafting, you have to put in the work to get there!

2. Know Your Limits--"The sky's the limit!" you say. 

My answer: Sure it is! Until you bonk your head on a passing airplane carrying the banner of I CAN DO IT ALL! Cut back and schedule. Do you really need to join 15 social networking sites? Do you really need to blog three times a day? Figure out how to minimize and prioritize. Schedule your blog posts and Facebook time. Instead of taking five online writing courses a year, maybe take one or two. Maybe reward yourself with some surfing after you've written for a whole hour or finished an article or short story draft. 

Boy, have I learned this one the hard way. Last year, I stretched myself too thin. I like to pretend I'm superwoman, but I'll share a secret with you...I'm not. I thought I could take online classes, be active in my online critique group and all the social networking sites, have a popular blog, and STILL get my work-in-progress done. 


I'm a full-time mom of three, so any thing on top of the mom job stretches my schedule to the breaking point. I piled too much on my plate, so now I have to trim the calories, so to speak. None of the other online pursuits were bad in and of themselves. But, I pushed my writing aside too much while I was doing them. 

If you have a writing project to finish, you really have to stick to your guns (see #1) and get it done! I hate to pick on J.K. Rowling (she's totally awesome), but unless you're a famous author like her, you probably have a job or you're in school, or you're a parent, most likely don't have eight straight hours to sit and write. And if you spend all your spare time surfing Facebook or blogging, then wave goodbye to your writing time. Figure out how much time you need to get your project done and push aside the non-necessary stuff.

3. Take Care of You--"Writing is me time," you say. "I'm already locking myself in my room for two hours a night. Isn't that taking care of me?"

My answer: Not exactly. You're working. (see #1 again) You're sitting on your tail and stressing over the 17th rewrite of the 3rd paragraph on page 56. It's butt and brain-numbing. Plus, if you're stuffing your mouth full of Cheetos at the same time....

So, last year, I put on a few extra pounds. All that writing, promo, etc (see #2) had me falling off the exercise wagon early on. Stress had me stuffing myself with junk, especially over the holidays. Add to that some really late nights and I was a total mombie. 

Moms are tired enough. But I just made it worse. And what did that do to my writing? You guessed it. Took a serious toll that resulted in some real writing blocks. Hours of staring at the same paragraph, interrupted by mindless surfing on Facebook (see #2 again).  

If you want to be successful at any writing project, your mind needs to be sharp. You know how to do it. Limit the junk. Get more sleep (easier when you schedule better and prioritize). And move! Taking care of your body will keep your mind functioning properly so you can focus.

***Here's a little thing I'm trying: I've traded my office chair for an exercise ball. It forces you to use your core muscles to balance as you sit and keeps your spine in proper alignment. Plus, you can bounce like Tigger! ***

4. Attitude Is Everything--You say, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"

My answer: This is true. But, sometimes it's not. Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was a bestseller. Had enough idioms yet?

I don't know of anyone who became a writing phenomenon overnight with the first draft of anything. And, quite frankly, there are thousands of superb writers out there who will never be famous. That doesn't mean their efforts are futile. They've spent hours at the keyboard, been rejected time and time again. So, should you just throw in the towel now?

Nope. There's one thing every one of you should be doing.

READ!!! And if you're not, you should be--it's one of the best ways to grow as a writer. Read widely and often. But have the right attitude about it. You might pick up a wonderful book and get the "I wish I could write like that" syndrome. I know I do. 

Well, stop it! Most likely, that author has worked his or her butt off  (and had a little bit of luck) to get to where they are today. Read Stephen King's On Writing if you doubt that. So what if you're not ranked #1 at Amazon in the Culinary History of Ancient China category. You may never be, but that doesn't mean you can't improve your skills and really crank out some readable material. 

Start small and give it your all. From short stories, to articles and newsletters, there are tons of writing projects at your disposal. It's up to you to have the right attitude about it. Take whatever writing job you get and run with it! When you're finished, be proud of your accomplishment. You don't have to be on the NYT Bestseller list to be a good writer. You just have to write! 

Now shut down Facebook, put down the Cheetos, and channel the voice of Stuart Smalley, because doggone it, you are good enough. So, get at it!


  1. Above all - write, write, write. If you're anything like me, it becomes an obsession. :)

  2. YES!!! Writers write. Of course, we have to stop to eat and go to the loo now and then :)

  3. Excellent advice, and congratulations!

  4. How can you go wrong quoting Stuart Smalley?

    Those are great tips, Mysti. It is easy to get caught up in thinking that just because you love something and it's a passion that it doesn't become work.

    No matter why we write, the only way we get better is to edit, read and share. We can learn even from our mistakes, no matter how hard that can be at times. We all need to remember never give up!


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