by Colleen M. Story
Few things in the writing life are absolute. What kind of book should you write? It depends on your interests, passions, and skills. How should you market your book? There are many ways. You have to choose those that work for you.
After over 25 years of making my living writing, however, I’ve learned a few things that I know you shouldn’t do, no matter what kind of writer you are. Here’s hoping these will help save you a few decisions, anyway!
Sitting too long is horrible for your health. It’s been linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even early death. Standing is no panacea, either. If you stand too long, you put yourself at risk for leg pain, circulation issues, back pain, joint problems, and more.
What’s the solution? Move…a lot. Or at least, more than you are now.
Set a timer and every 30 minutes or so, switch up your position. I have a standing option at my desk and a regular office chair. I stand for 30 minutes or so, then sit on the office chair, then go back to standing. About every hour, I go get a fresh glass of water and walk around for a minute. Later in the day, I’ll work on my notebook computer in the easy chair, which offers a third position.
You may have other options in your writing area. Make use of them all. The key is to move, shift, and change positions.
Note: While standing, avoid shoulder pain by making sure your keyboard is low and slanted away from you. (Read more about that in my post, “How to Stop Your Computer from Hurting Your Shoulders.”)
Some writers outline, some writers don’t. We’re plotters or pantsers, they say, and the general idea is that we should all live and let live.
But I have attended workshops where reputable teachers declared outlining was the “only” way. As a result, I spent considerable time questioning my own “pantsing” writing process.
It was only when I heard about successful writers who eschewed outlining—including Stephen King and Margaret Atwood—that I realized my approach was okay. What a relief!
You have to work with your own creative process, whatever that is. Don’t waste time trying to write like someone else writes. Learn all you can about story structure, plot, characterization, etc., but when it comes to actually doing the thing, just to get the words down on paper however you can.
Write in a way that makes writing fun. You’re likely in this for the long run, so you want to be sure you’re enjoying the ride.
Several writers have told me that they struggle to find time to write because someone else in their life (significant other, family member, friend) fails to support them.
These "others" see writing as a hobby or trivial activity. They may interrupt the writer during her writing time, put the writer down for investing time in such a “useless” activity, or otherwise discourage the writer from pursuing her dreams.
We can’t expect others to understand the desire to write or the dream of being a writer when they don’t share those same desires and dreams. We can be grateful for those people in our lives who do support us, but we can’t allow those who don’t to stop us.
In the end, the person whose support you need most is staring at you in the mirror. Don't let that person down.
If you have someone in your life who doesn’t support your writing dreams, stick to your guns. Establish a writing time and don’t allow it to be interrupted. Don’t feel like you have to explain yourself. How you spend your time is up to you!
One of the magical things about having a creative career is the immense freedom that comes with it. You get to determine the direction of that career. You can use your strengths and skills to fashion a unique niche that is all yours and continue to build your brand throughout the rest of your life.
Believing there are only two or three paths to success is shortsighted. There are countless ways writers have created success for themselves. Some focus strictly on writing books. Others write books and do other things like teach, present workshops, coach, freelance, and more. Still others put their writing to work for nonprofit organizations or find ways to combine their love of writing with other types of art like photography, painting, and music.
What works for you? It takes a lot of experimentation, but that’s half the fun!
Focus on what you do best. Put your unique talents, skills, and interests together to create an author platform that will attract readers to your work. Stay open to how your career can grow and expand. (For more tips on using your strengths to build your platform, see Writer Get Noticed!)
When we first start writing, usually it’s because we’re drawn to it. It’s fun, therapeutic, a creative outlet, an escape, or a way to better communicate with others. For a while, we’re okay with that.
But then somewhere along the way, we start expecting our writing to do more for us. It has to earn money— not just some money, but enough so we can quit our day jobs. It has to bring us attention and recognition. It has to soothe the wounds inside us. It has to make us feel better about ourselves.
That's when the problems start because there's no way that writing can do all of these things. When we expect it to, we set ourselves up for disappointment. That path leads to writer's block, discouragement, low energy, and slowed progress.
If you find yourself getting wrapped up in sales, marketing, awards, publication contracts, fame, numbers of subscribers, and all the rest to the detriment of your writing, give yourself a month to let it all go. Forget about all that stuff and just get back to writing for the fun of it. Remind yourself of why you started writing in the first place.
It’s not easy to consistently find time to work out. But as a long-term health writer, I know one thing for sure: exercise is the one thing you can do that will help you stay healthy, disease-free, and creatively sharp for years to come.
Exercise not only keeps your body in shape but your mind as well. Whenever you exercise, you get the blood flowing, which feeds your brain what it needs to focus.
Research has found that regular exercise helps improve thinking, memory, mood, attention, and more. It also gives you energy, so if you’re often fatigued, step up your daily walks! And if you want to keep your fingers flying over those keys until you’re 80 or older, make sure you’re exercising at least 30 minutes every day.
If you’re having trouble exercising, take more mini-walks during the day. They can last only 10 minutes as long as you get at least three of them in (more is better). Try walking for 10 minutes first thing in the morning, on your lunch break, and after dinner.
I don't think any writer, when first starting out, can imagine how difficult the journey is likely to be. She starts to learn as she begins to experience the bumps in the road, and then the potholes, and then the nasty roadblocks. It's the way it goes for most of us and we get through it. The problem comes when a writer thinks, "It should be easier than this.”
I get it. You see other writers succeeding out there, and it seems like you should be able to do the same thing. What you don’t see, however, is how hard or how long those other writers worked to get where they are. You don’t see the skills they developed, the mistakes they made, or the challenges they overcame.
Imagine what it takes to succeed at any other career: to become a doctor, a lawyer, a professor, or a scientist. It takes years and years of education, commitment, and hard work. It takes just as much if not more effort to become a successful writer. In many cases, writing requires more of us, as there is no clear-cut path to the top. We have to flounder around, experiment, try and fail, and try again before we figure it out.
It’s not easy. Expecting it to be so only causes angst. Instead, expect a hard, long, arduous journey, but one that is well worth it for most writers.
Carry your struggles with pride. Another rejection? Welcome to the club. Bad review? We’ve all been there. You’re part of the group. You’re amassing your scars. One day, you’ll tell stories about them. Hang in there. Don’t give up.
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Note: Get a free report plus free chapters of Colleen’s award-winning books for writers here!
Colleen M. Story is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker with over 20 years in the creative writing industry. Her latest novel, The Beached Ones, was released with CamCat Books on July 26, 2022. Her previous novel, Loreena's Gift, was a Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others. Colleen has written three books to help writers succeed: Your Writing Matters, Writer Get Noticed, and Overwhelmed Writer Rescue. You can find free chapters of these books here. Find more at her author website (colleenmstory.com) or connect with her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story) and YouTube (@ColleenMStoryteller).
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