Writing Pearls from a Half-Shucked Oyster

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When writing fiction, you take yourself out of the equation, only to insert yourself into every variable. Writers aren’t happy about getting to live one life. We want walk around in everyone’s shoes, and be good and bad, complicated and nuts, heroes and demons. And let’s face it — we want to get away with murder.

I just returned from the Writer’s Digest Conference in NY, where I met a lot of amazing writers and people, and wanted to share some pearls of wisdom I picked up. You never know how starved you are for people who get what it is writers really do and the struggles we face until you get thrown into a room with hundreds of them. It feels like hitting a buffet with an impenetrable sneeze guard, serving only artisan breads and Belgium chocolates.

It’s crazy to be in a profession where there are no set rules, no office buildings, no daily affirmations. Everything must come from yourself. You are boss, worker, cheerleader, shoulder for tears, punching bag for frustration, water cooler to babble on about how Jon Snow is a gorgeous bastard and the one true king.

That’s a whole lot of alone time. And being by yourself, with all your demons and insecurities, with no one to blame, or share the burden of not producing, can feel like the most intimidating feat in the world. Writers must be brave and get out of our own way. But most importantly, writers must become experts in perseverance. We must be curious enough to learn the craft, to learn the rules before we break them, to hone and revise, and hit delete on the most beautiful words that don’t advance the story, to walk away when something isn’t working, to read other people’s work with prose we drool over because more often than not, great readers already know the tricks of the trade. We see the tension, the twists, the escalation, the fleshing out of characters, the descriptive settings. We see the flaws, the places where a writer lacks brevity or polish. And all of this requires time and patience in a world where people only seem to have time for TV, Twitter and political outrage (holds hand up), while harboring a vast misconception about what it takes to be an actual writer.

I guess my earth-shattering advice is to stop wasting time waiting to be told you’re great, for inspiration to hit, or be given a magic bullet for success (guilty of all three), and spend that time getting better. If it sounds like hard work — it is — and it means you’re finally doing it right. Happy writing!

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