It’s still January. Yes, that longest of months (187 days, by my count) is still with us, dragging its heels through the snow like a remorseless kid being towed to the principal’s office.
During January (and its partner in crime, February) it’s easy to give in to cold, dark days. Cold, dark thoughts. Cold, dark realizations that we’re sick and tired of those New Year’s Resolutions we made, and we just want to eat an entire pound of chocolate and glare at the TV.
And that’s when we start to tell ourselves cold, dark things about ourselves. About our writing. About our stories. About our abilities, skills, ideas, prospects.
Well, enough of that. I asked some incredible writers, dear friends all, what they believe we writers should never, ever tell ourselves.
They came through in spades, of course. Take that, January. We’re strong enough to withstand your cold, dark days.
Here’s what these wise authors say we writers should never tell ourselves:
- “I’m bad at this!” — Lora Koehler, NY Times bestselling author of The Little Snowplow series, says, “Don’t tell yourself I can’t.” It’s just not true, so stop sabotaging yourself.
- “I quit.” — “Quit saying, ‘I quit’,” says Becky Hall, author of A is for Arches and Morris and Buddy: The Story of the First Seeing Eye Dog. “Don’t give up.” Instead, she says, “Find the joy in writing.”
- “I got a rejection (or two, or ten), so I’m giving up.” — Getting a rejection is no excuse for quitting, says Sydney Salter, author of novels like My Big Nose and Other Disasters and Swoon at Your Own Risk. “You aren’t trying if you’re not getting rejected!” Sydney adds. Keep going no matter what.
- “I’m too old.” — Sydney had another piece of advice for writers: “You’re never too old to achieve your writing goals. Young people haven’t had as much life experience.”
- “I’ll never be as good as ____.” — NY Times bestselling author Jean Reagan (How To Babysit a Grandpa series) warns us: “Don’t compare yourself to others.”
- “I’d be happier if I didn’t write.” — Anne Bowen, author of Scooter in the Outside and I Loved You Before You Were Born, suggests this usually isn’t true. Is it the writing that makes you unhappy, or is it the business of writing, like hunting for an agent or marketing yourself? If it’s a struggle with the story itself, try a new tack: work on a brand-new story or poem, try some writing exercises, or tackle a different genre, just for a change of pace. Don’t abandon your original project—just let it rest for a while.
- “This book has to be a bestseller.” — “Don’t anticipate that your book will be a bestseller,” says Lisa Actor, author of Rebel Raiders. “Write it for yourself first. The real value is the writing and in hearing from readers.”
- “I have to change my story because So-and-so said I should.” — Chris Graham, author of The Olive Tree, Three Little Robbers, and others, says to listen to critiques of your work and take the useful bits of advice to heart. “But don’t give power to people who don’t know what they’re talking about,” she says. And don’t blindly follow advice without making sure it fits with your own goals, style, and needs. “Listen to less advice and write more,” she says.
- “I don’t need to learn anything new about writing. I’m a professional.” — Corinne Humphrey, artist and author of The Tao of Rudy and the Roaming with Rudy series, sums up her advice in one spot-on directive: “Never stop learning.”
- “It’s already been done/written.” — Poet Lisa Roullard (An Envelope Waiting) says “Don’t say ‘it hasn’t been done,’ because it hasn’t been done by you, and you are one of a kind!”
- “I’ll be a real writer when…” — “Never say I’ll be a real writer when my husband/wife/partner don’t refer to it as a ‘hobby,’ when I get an agent, when I get a publisher, when I get a starred review, when I win an award…the list is endless!” says Bobbie Pyron, award-winning author of novels like Stay, A Dog’s Way Home, and more. “You are a ‘real writer’ the minute you sit down, open your heart and your imagination and put words to paper. Only you can give yourself that validation of being a real writer.”
- “I’ve got writer’s block!” — Bobbie Pyron also warns us that claiming we have writer’s block is “…an excuse not to get the work done. Some days of writing are luminous, magical, transportive; many days—in my experience, most days—are a struggle. You have to show up anyway. Give yourself permission to write crap. Give yourself permission to wander on the page. BUT. JUST. WRITE!”