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Three Questions: Writer Advice

What are common traps for developing writers?

There are a lot of them. I think a common problem for perfectionist writers is that they want their writing to be, well, perfect. And writing is never perfect and never finished, even in print. I know of authors who, at book signings, will go through readers books and fix typos they caught after publication. Do whatever you need to do to accept that your writing will never be as perfect as you want it to be. Read Anne Lamott's incredible Bird by Bird and, if you take nothing else away, learn to write shitty first drafts. Give yourself permission and space to write less-than-perfect rough drafts.

What piece of writing advice do you wish someone had told you when you started out as a writer?

I grappled with this question for a while. I'm fortunate in that I'm determined (stubborn) which I can convert into long, productive writing sessions. I'm confident (foolish) enough to believe that my writing is strong enough to be worthy of publication. And I'm relaxed (sloppy) enough to not let my inner editor impede with my first draft momentum.

I think an important lesson that took me much to long to learn is that it's okay to read what I want to read. For whatever reason, I had a mental block against reading books for fun. An influential and more experienced writer who mentored me in my early twenties told me in regards to my own writing that I should "enlighten, not entertain." This feedback, though I think good intentioned, was hurtful to hear, and yet I still somehow internalized it. I refused to read for pleasure, feeling like it was beneath me, and instead pursued high-brow, literary works. I love literary fiction, but I think it's super important to read widely. I ended up reading less - or not at all - until I finally caved and binge-read a half dozen novels set in the ALIEN cinematic universe. That ended up being a much needed gateway back into reading for fun and I'm so happy I released myself from the need to read only work that would "enlighten." Sparking a renewed passion for reading has also renewed my love for fiction writing.

I think that great fiction does enlighten, AND I believe that great fiction can also entertain. I think that if you can transport a reader out of their world for a brief period of time and give them a thrilling dream to slip into, you've done something remarkable. Joy can be hard to come by these days. Providing a pleasurable escape for someone who needs it is a noble and beautiful thing to do.

What is the best way for a developing writer to become successful?

This one's easy. Read. Write. Connect.

Read widely. Read for fun. Read to enlighten. Read literary novels about crumbling marriages. Read epic fantasies about knights taming and riding dragons. Read non fiction books about the history of Chinese cuisine. Read poetry collections about the socialization habits of Bonobo primates. Read anything and everything that interests you. Reading is crucial to honing your own writing craft and keeping the writing engine fueled and chugging along.

Write. Journaling is good. Organizing and plotting is fine. But write. Write whenever you can, every day if possible. Even if it's just a sentence or two, it keeps your head in what your writing and continues your momentum. And, perhaps most impossibly, finish what you write.

Connect. Find your people, the other weirdos who are helplessly, cruelly compelled by unknown forces to write as well. Pick their brains, talk about books and writing, meet up for your preferred beverage of choice. Find kind writers who are willing to read your writing and provide feedback and be kind yourself and do the same. Writing is a difficult, solitary job. Seek out those other people like you and build a community. This might be online, hosted by a local writing organization, or a class at a community college. Finding or building your tribe is crucial to writing consistently, improving your writing, and finding connection in something that is almost by definition lonely.

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