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Several years ago, I was sitting at my desk at work talking to one of the students in our program.
I worked in the administrative offices of a university.
I had asked the student what he was doing for our winter break and he mentioned how he was supposed to go visit family but that he didn’t really want to go because “there was research to be done.” (It was a joint MD-PhD program, so they were scientists as well as one-day doctors).
In that moment, it’s like the world around me stopped.
To me, I saw this person who loved what he was doing so much that he didn’t even want to take a vacation.
That was almost unconscionable to me because I lived for my vacations and days off. I was good at the work and I adored my coworkers, but it wasn’t my “life passion,” if you know what I mean.
I told this story to a coworker later that day, and she told me that she wished she had something like that.
Instantly, I said, “I do. It’s writing.”
In that moment, something shifted. I decided that I would start writing.
(I was later told by another student that it wasn’t necessarily passion, but rather the fact that when working in science, you don’t really have the choice but to work when the work needs to be done. It slightly deflated my idealistic image but didn’t change that first interpretation—or its impact on me.)
So, after visiting my family, I came back to my tiny studio apartment and decided to start writing. I started small because otherwise I knew I’d feel too much pressure and not do anything.
I had spent years not writing because I felt if I couldn’t write something perfect and article-worthy all in one go, what was the point?
So, every morning before work, I set my alarm on my phone and wrote for 15 minutes. I wanted to write without pressure, without thinking it needed to be perfect, with no other motivation than to just start.
About a month or two later, on a dark, early morning, I wrote and submitted my first article—to Elephant Journal.
And it was published.
And then I wrote another and another and…went through periods where I didn’t write at all and then wrote again. And some of it was good and some of it wasn’t as good, and sometimes I thought I hated writing and would never do it again, and other times I’d feel as if I could write every single day.
And throughout the years, I have become acquainted with all sorts of stuff that comes along with writing—a critical inner voice, limiting beliefs, the kinds of things I like to write about, how and when I like to write, how it best feels for me, how it feels when I’m in a flow, what to do to get through “writer’s block,” and more.
What I’ve come to learn through observing myself (and others) is that a lot of us are pretty similar with the things we go through. So, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned with the hope that it can be of benefit.
Here are 15 essential writing tips for writers (or for anyone who wants to write!):
1. Don’t try to be perfect.
Everyone has their own process, and you will get to know yours, but don’t try to be perfect. It’s okay if you write multiple drafts and your first one is all over the place with a ton of repetition.
Aiming for perfection, especially writing the perfect article all in one go, can immobilize us. Same with trying to edit while we write. Just write. Allow the typos and incomplete sentences and repetitions. It’s much easier to edit later than to try to be perfect all at once.
Also, know when it’s time to say, “It’s good enough.”
2. You may be faced with your critical inner voice.
Who are you to think you can do this? What could you possibly have to say? How could you be of benefit? You’re pathetic. You’re terrible. How could you call yourself a writer? How could you even think that you could write? You should have never even tried. And on and on and on.
Hearing this voice can be shocking—because you may not even realize you have it. But just get acquainted with it, watch it, observe it, hold compassion for yourself as you hold space for this voice, and then dig deep and do what it is you want to do anyway—write.
3. Not everyone will connect with your writing.
You may be criticized. If you write about politics or anything that can be emotionally charged, people will disagree with you. Write from your heart anyway. Even for other topics that aren’t controversial, it’s still true that not everyone will connect with your writing. It’s okay. They don’t have to. Those who connect with you will.
Also, we don’t connect with or like everyone else’s writing, so how could we expect everyone to connect with ours?
4. Learn how to deal with writer’s block.
It will happen. Just learn your process. Everyone deals with it differently. Some may seek inspiration in social media or just sit and start typing anyway. For me, I walk away from whatever it is I’m trying to force. I just stop. I go for a walk or meditate or just do something else. I basically give up on trying to force the writing. It feels better and I almost always get ideas not long after the break.
5. Be true to you.
Write about what you want to write about and in the way you want to write about it. Don’t give into the “popular topics” unless it’s something you want to try. Instead, feel into your heart and write about what is meaningful to you—about what you care about, about what your heart wants to say. You want to write for a reason. Stay true to that reason.
6. Get to know your process.
Do you like writing in the morning? Late at night? Is there something you like to do before you start? Do you draft ideas in a notebook and sit with it? Or do you just start typing? How long does it take you? What inspires you? Where do you like to go for ideas? How do you brainstorm? Or do ideas just sort of pop into your head? Get to know yourself and how you operate.
7. Know what you like, but be okay with experimenting.
It’s good to know what we like to write about, and how we like to write, but stay open to other ways, other topics, other ideas, other ways of writing, or other times of the day to write—if you feel moved from within to try something different, do it. It doesn’t hurt to experiment! It can also be a way to challenge your “comfort zone.” But be clear with your intentions, and stay true to yourself.
8. Know your why.
Know your why and hold onto it. Why do you want to write?
For example, I love to write because my heart wants to say something, because something wants to be said through me, be expressed through me. Because, in a way, there is no choice but to write. I don’t want to write to “be a writer.” I don’t want to write just so “I’ve written.” I write because I love writing and because my soul wants to write, because my soul has something to say. I write because something within me has to write, because something has to be said through me—because writing is a part of me.
9. It’s okay to care about how our articles do.
It’s okay to want our articles to do well or to be seen. It’s okay to want articles to perform in a certain way. It actually feels totally natural because as writers, we put a lot of our hearts into what we do. Of course, we want people to see it and also receive it well.
But, we shouldn’t attach to this or expect it—or allow it to dictate how we feel or what we do. We should hold space for this, while always coming back to our deeper why. We need to understand that the most important part is our “why”—why we write.
10. Be authentic to your experience.
Write about what you know. Write about what you’ve experienced. And write from your experience.
For example, if you have a lot of anxiety, you shouldn’t write about how to “heal anxiety once and for all” (as that’s not your experience), but you could write about how you manage it, about how you soothe it, about what you’ve learned about it or through it, about what you’re doing to live with it and alongside it, about how you are coping with it.
Same with any other topic—really tune inward and try to come from the most honest, authentic place that you can.
11. Don’t fall in love with your work (or cut, cut, cut!).
I got my Masters in Journalism. One of my professors said something that has stuck with me through the years: “Don’t fall in love with your work.” And also, something along the lines of, “Don’t be afraid to cut.”
As writers, we can fall in love with certain lines or really want to include something in an article. But, is it really necessary? Think about the story you’re really trying to tell. Is what you want to include really necessary? If not, cut it. Be ruthless with cutting.
I have, at times, cut lines that I loved just because I knew that they were not necessary to a particular piece. Once I cut and saved a line so I could use it at another point—I think I did about a year later.
12. Understand that writing is not your identity.
As a writer, we love writing and we can even self-identify as “being a writer.” But as with anything external, if we attach ourselves too much with it or so identify ourselves with it that it feels like it is us, then it can cause us pain—for example, if we’re criticized or go through a period where we don’t want to write at all (it can almost lead to a sort of identity crisis).
Even if our soul loves writing—it’s still not who we are. We need to understand this deeply.
Know that you love writing, that it’s a part of you, but that it’s not you.
13. Focus on the work, rather than the result.
Stick to your why, to writing because you love it. Express what your heart has to say. And then…allow for an element of “letting go.”
We have little control over how our articles are received. Yes, we can build our networks so we have more people to share our articles with, but we have no control over how others receive it or what they’ll think about it.
Ultimately, understand that the truest success is writing from your heart, about what you care about—writing because your heart had something it wanted to say, and you said it.
14. Don’t compare yourself or judge yourself against others.
We all have different interests, backgrounds, goals, motivations, and reasons for writing. Some people write about topics that naturally generate more interest. It’s all good. Try to stick to your why. To your process. Write about what you want to write about.
But also, keep in mind that you can learn from others. Don’t compare, but you can look to see what others are doing and how they’re doing it and maybe incorporate it (if it feels right to you).
15. It’s okay to take a break.
It’s okay to not write and it’s even okay to think you hate writing sometimes. It’s okay to take a long break and feel like you may never write again. There can be a lot of reasons for why you don’t want to write. Honor those, whatever they may be. You may even come back from the break feeling renewed and even more inspired (it has always happened to me!).
I’m sure there are a lot of other tips that could be included, but these are the ones I could think of for now.