by Lori Freeland
Writers are unique and diverse creatures. We’re mysterious and unpredictable and original. That’s part of what makes us . . . us. And that’s a good thing. There are as many types of authors out there as there are genres to write in.
We can be introverts, extroverts, or a mix of both. We can be organized planners, chaotic pansters, or fall somewhere in between. We can be inspired by waking up to the energy of the sun or by winding down to the stillness of the moon. Some of us prefer to write alone while others feed off sharing a workspace.
But it’s not the differences between us that matter, it’s what makes us all the same—our crazy obsession to create. No matter how or where or when we work best, there are five things we all need to feed that drive to write.
1. Passion for the project.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Despite the number of writing skills we’ve mastered, if we’re not excited about the story we’re telling, it’s going to show.
There are a lot of reasons why you may not be “feeling” your latest project. But bottom line, the “blah” you have toward your words and ideas will affect your reader. They may not be able to pinpoint what’s wrong, but they’ll pick up on your indifference or negativity.
Whatever’s not working, take the time to figure it out and fix it. If it’s worth your time and energy to write the book, it’s worth your time and energy to do it right. And if this statement isn’t true for you, consider moving on to a different project. Don’t beat yourself up trying to make something work if it’s just not right.
Side Note: If you’re a serial project skipper and find yourself always moving on to a new project, ask yourself why. Because that’s a whole other issue.
2. Confidence to spur you on.
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
All writers struggle with confidence no matter how many books they’ve churned out or how successful they’ve been.
Each new project can feel like a blank slate, a test of our skills, an opportunity to fail. If we’ve been successful in the past, the voices in our heads tell us, “That was a one off. You’ll never be able to live up to that again.” If we’ve fallen below our own or others’ expectations, the voices in our heads tell us, “Why bother? You’re never going to be any good.”
Lack of confidence will kill even the best book. Forget about the past. Start now in this moment. Duct tape those stupid voices and find a new one. One that says, “You can do this. You’re going to put in the work and make it happen.” Then do an honest evaluation. What are your strengths? Play those up. What are your weaknesses? Make solid goals to fix them. Take a class. Find a mentor. Join a writing group. Ask for help. That’s how we all learn.
Side Note: A lack of writing confidence often bleeds over from a lack of confidence in other areas of our lives. That may be the deeper issue. And it may be worth looking into—even if it’s hard. No one likes being vulnerable. But sometimes that’s what it takes to find your confidence and your value. And when you find it, it’s so worth it.
3. Goals to light the way.
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”
Goals are what get us where we want to go. Without them, we have no plan, no map, no destination.
Sometimes writing feels like navigating an impossible maze in a deep, dark cave that has no exit. At best, stumbling around in the dark is a haphazard gamble that we’ll ever find our way into the light. At worst, it’s a confidence and career killer.
Set aside an entire day to make some goals. Push everything else aside to really think about what you want when it comes to writing. Don’t be afraid to dream big or start small. Make a list that’s just for you. Brainstorm whatever comes to mind, then go back and pick what’s most important, and create a step-by-step map of how you’ll reach each goal.
Side Note: Keep your goals manageable. If the big picture seems overwhelming, even an hourly goal pushes you one more step toward your destination.
4. Time and space to create.
“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
Everyone needs some kind of buffer to get into and stay into the headspace of their project. And that requires a set amount of time and your own space—unless you’re one of those writers who works better being near someone else. The good news is that the more we exercise our “writing muscles,” the quicker we can dive into our projects and get traction.
Whether you prefer writing in Starbucks, in an office, on the couch, or in your bed (guilty!), having a place you’re comfortable in is crucial. You know what kind of space works for you. Claim your spot.
Being deliberate about writing time makes all the difference in your productivity. You can think about wanting to write, talk about it, set goals to do it (also guilty!), but until you put your booty in that chair, you’re going nowhere. If all you have is your lunch hour, take it and use it the best you can. I’ve found the more “free” time I have, the less of it I spend writing. There’s something about being forced to fit writing into my day that kicks me in the butt to get it done.
Side Note: If your space isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it up and try something new. If you can’t find the time to write, make a list of how you spend your day and cut something out.
5. A squad to cheer us on.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You Too? I thought I was the only one.’”
Behind every _______ (insert one or all: successful, working, productive, confident, goal-focused, passionate, creative) writer is a _________ (insert one or all: writer bff, critique group, accountability partner, cheerleading crew, supportive spouse, writing family).
Isolation is a real thing for writers and so are writing highs and lows. We need people who understand that to celebrate us in our “ups” and console us in our “downs.” Somehow, knowing we’re not struggling alone can make whatever we’re dealing with feel better.
Whether you join a writing group, meet a fellow writer for coffee, or start an accountability group on Zoom, make connections. Find your people. Only writers truly get other writers.
Side Note: Don’t feel bad about taking your time to put together your squad. The wrong people can hurt you as much as the right people can help you. For more on that, see The Up and Down Sides of Critique Groups: Is There Value in Finding Your Peeps?
Speaking of squads, we learn so much from each other, don’t we? Some of my “coolest” writing discoveries have come from comments, opinions, and suggestions on what I’ve written. So . . . let me know. Which of the five things writers need are most important to you? How do you make them happen? What doesn’t work for you? What other things do you need as a writer? And feel free to share your favorite encouraging quote down in the comments!
* * * * * *
An encourager at heart, author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s presented multiple workshops at writer’s conferences across the country and writes everything from non-fiction to short stories to novels—YA to adult. When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her kids, she loves to mess with the lives of the imaginary people living in her head.
You can find her young adult and contemporary romance at lorifreeland.com and her inspirational blog and writing tips at lafreeland.com. Her latest release, The Accidental Boyfriend, is currently free on the Radish app.