What I Have Learned As a Writer



I’ve been writing for a long time.

I wrote little ditties on cards to my mother when I was a kid. I wrote papers in school. I wrote essays for contests in high school, and I won a few of them. I wrote an essay for a Fathers Day radio station contest one year and won some cool stuff for my grandfather, including a black recliner that became his smoking and relaxing chair for the next several years. I wrote those crazy idealistic personal statements about how I was going to change the world if I was accepted into medical school. (I guess that one was pretty good too, now that I think about it. I got in, after all.) I’ve written love letters. I’ve written complaints. I’ve written letters that I never sent. I’ve written resignation letters. I’ve written letters telling people goodbye. I’ve written letters to my daughters, trying to impart some tiny piece of knowledge that I felt they needed before they left the nest. I’ve written short stories. I’ve written three unpublished novels. I’ve written hundreds of blog posts. 

I’ve been writing a long time, and I’ve written a lot of stuff. Some of it very, very good. Some of it very, very bad. 

Through it all, I hope I’ve learned some things, some lessons, that I want to share with you. This is not an all-inclusive list by any means. Some things I’ve learned have been very painful and I would not share them here. Some  have been deeply personal and only my very best friends would know about them. That’s okay. The ones I share, I share freely. You may agree or disagree with any of these. That’s your right and your choice. Your writing style, content, thrust and genre may be very different from mine. That, dear reader, is what makes the world go ’round. 


Don’t write deeply personal things about family, even if you are sure that the feelings are your own and yours to share. You will be misunderstood. Your meaning, so clear to you in the creation, will be muddy in the deconstruction by your readers, some of whom will of course be the very family you have written about. I have learned this lesson the hard way. The rifts that come from this kind of writing are hard, sometimes impossible, to repair. 


A corollary to the above? Don’t believe it when your family or close friends tell you that they don’t really care about what you write and that they never read it anyway. They do care and they do read it. Don’t delude yourself on that point. 


The blog posts and essays that you put the most time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears into will get the least amount of attention. 
The posts that you dash off and publish as rickety first drafts, fueled by emotion and angst and passion, will often be your most popular ever. Go figure. 
Most people don’t give a rat’s ass about your likes, opinions or feelings about anything. If you can just acknowledge that as truth, you will be freed up to do some really good writing. Get over yourself and get to writing. 
Write for yourself, nobody else. Write what you would like to read. Somebody else like you will find it and read it too. 
Don’t write to be noticed, published, awarded, praised or famous. Write first because you have something to say. If any of the rest of those things follow, consider yourself lucky and enjoy them. 
Write every single day if you can. Sometimes, need for sleep, work schedules, travel or other obligations get in the way, but make those the exception to your rule. The more you write, the better you get. 
Write at the same time every day. Muses like schedules, and they get pissed if you stand them up. They also hold grudges. 
Arrange your writing environment to help you write. Make it hot enough, cool enough, light enough, shady enough, cluttered enough, sparse enough, colorful or black and white enough to let the ideas flow from your head into your fingers and onto the page or the screen. 
Use excellent tools. I love my big iMac on my simple wooden desk with my harman/kardon speakers and a hot cup of really expensive, really good coffee on the soapstone coaster at my right hand. Are you getting it?
Listen to feedback from people you trust. If they’re professionals, that’s even better.  They will always know more than you do.  That’s the way the world works. Don’t be angry that you can’t know and do everything. Leverage your relationships with the people who will make you smarter, better and stronger. 
Lastly, once you’ve satisfied yourself that you’ve thought about these things long enough for today, write. Then write some more, then write some more. 
Wishing you flashes of insight, moments of clarity, brilliant ideas, and years of creativity to come. 
Photo: One of my trips to the mountaintop trying to figure it all out. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, USA. 

6 thoughts on “What I Have Learned As a Writer

  1. I am entering a career that will require me to write more than I ever have. It is a challenge to write words meant for speaking but I think I am finding my voice. Reading blogs and other writings has helped. I will cherish your wish for “flashes of insight, moments of clarity, brilliant ideas, and years of creativity to come.” Thanks.


  2. When I was a kid, I used to love mixing bleach and ammonia in the cellar and watching the gas cloud rise. Writing is safer, usually, and almost always more fun. Could be because no one’s yelling, “Cut that out down there!” At least not yet…welcome back, Doc!


  3. Bouquets Greg!
    You are right to write on the right and wrong way to write, as you continue on your quest to right the wrongs of the marginalised and afflicted.
    Continue to aspire and inspire before you expire!
    Write on!


  4. Great words of advice for writers, Greg. Though there is one bit of advice that is also applicable and that is – if you write for a long time and don’t get anywhere with it (and by ‘get anywhere’ I mean for yourself, not for a publisher or a readership), if you try to write book after book and rarely reach the end, or you’re good at characterization but hopeless at plot or vice-versa, then at some stage the best advice is to find something that you really are good at and do that instead of writing. I took that advice (from myself) many years ago when I realised that I’m cut out to be an artist, but not to be a writer of fiction which is what I’d wanted to be.

    As for blog posts. Well, I blogged for ten years on various sites (not just wordpress.com) and recently decided to quit. The way my health is improving, I’d say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 🙂


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