The writing life always has a new lesson to teach. Last year I thought I’d finally learned how to recognize when a manuscript was finished. This year that same manuscript taught me that no, I hadn’t. I also learned to love my two-years-ago writing as I readied it for a paperback release. Unlike that first manuscript, this one was finished (but only because it had to be). Our relationship with our writing is constantly growing and changing and it has much to teach if we remain willing to learn.
I received a few big lessons from writing in 2019. Mostly, those lessons were reminders about what’s important and why I do this work.
Project confidence, even (or especially) when it makes you feel vulnerable.
I started thinking about vulnerability and risk-taking when I took Donald Maass’ Emotional Craft of Fiction workshop this fall. Readers connect with us when we make ourselves vulnerable. We do our best work when we toss out equivocation and restraint.
That extends off the page to our real-life personas. I’ve done a lot of scary things this year: most notably my book launch, but also smaller projects like taking my blog ad-free in favor of direct support through Patreon and PayPal. I had to project confidence before I earned it.
Everyone starts from zero: zero book sales, zero Patreon patrons, zero social media followers, zero people reading our new blog. The catch is, we can’t act like we’re at zero. We need to act like we’ve already succeeded even when we’re speaking to an empty room.
It’s hard to go for it when you don’t have the success in the bag quite yet, but I’ve scored my biggest wins this year by faking it like I’ve already made it.
Stay relentlessly committed to craft.
One thing I never fake is my commitment to improving my craft. I will never run out of ways to grow as a writer.
Whether through my regular writing group or retreats, conferences, and workshops, I seek out opportunities for critique and growth. Praise is all well and good but it doesn’t help my writing. I want to do my stories justice. Often that means keeping my heart and mind wide open to critical feedback.
This year it also meant reopening an old project I’d promised myself I’d leave alone. Sometimes we catch an insight that reveals a solution to a problem we once found intractable. That’s what happened to me. Unwilling to settle for “good enough,” I busted out this once-finished manuscript and started a full rewrite.
I’ll admit this feels frustrating and perhaps a little embarrassing. I’d rather be telling people about the shiny new novel draft I just finished, not the decade-old flop I’ve pulled out of the drawer for the sixth time. But that leads me to my final lesson of 2019…
Be true to yourself and if the signs point the wrong way, ignore them.
Only we know why we do this work. While our craft might need work, our personal mission is non-negotiable.
I’ve spent several years building a brand for my non-fiction work. Sometimes it’s hard to watch newcomers enter the scene and find viral success. I catch myself thinking maybe I should be more like them.
Being more like them might bring me more validation on social media, but it wouldn’t strengthen what I’ve spent so much time building. My audience is different. My content is different. I’m also in it for the long haul. A lot of people who go viral or get big quickly tend to burn out and disappear. I know because I’ve stuck around long enough to watch it happen.
It’s easy to fall for shortcuts. We all want a good brag piece to share around the next holiday dinner table. But truly sustainable success takes a while to build. It also requires us to seek validation from within, not from social media metrics.
It’s hard to do something different than everyone else is doing, but only we know why we’re here. Only we know the right path to get where we’re going.