We writers are inundated by advice about how best to develop our craft and artistry. Some of it is frankly not all that helpful. Every time I read about “the one surefire way to write your novel” and it bears no relation to what works for me, I’m reminded that each of us must figure out our own writing process to get the work done. There is no “one size fits all.”
But there are a few pieces of writing advice I’ve received over the years that have really stuck with me. Here are three of them:
“You can’t fix a blank page”
Sounds obvious, right? But if you’re like me and so many other writers, you get nervous before starting a new project. That blank page is intimidating. What if the words won’t come? Or what I create is awful? Even embarrassing?
The strangest thing happens, however, once I force myself to write something, anything. Suddenly, I have material. I can shape it, tweak it, make it better. And once I get rolling and become immersed in my work, my fears and insecurities reluctantly sneak out the door. But for that to happen regularly, it’s vital to apply:
The “Butt-in-Chair” Prescription
The truth about inspiration is that it’s much more likely to occur in the process of writing rather than beforehand. Waiting for inspiration to strike in order to sit down and put pen to paper is an invitation to getting, well… not a lot done.
Committing myself to regular writing time with my “butt-in-chair” is the only way I’ve ever found to steadily produce writing and continue to grow and improve. It’s also the only prescription which holds my fears about “never being good enough” as a writer at bay. When I’m in the zone working, all else falls away.
And that leads me to my third piece of advice:
Nix the Comparison Trap
During my years as a dancer, it was really tough not to fall into the comparison trap. There was always another dancer whose extensions were higher, whose legs were longer, or who picked up movement combinations more quickly than I did. I had to remind myself (repeatedly!) that it didn’t do any good to wallow in despair and jealousy over what I lacked as a dancer, but to celebrate the gifts of musicality and expressiveness I was blessed with.
It’s the same way with writing. I read writers whose work is absolutely breathtaking, and I think, how will I ever measure up?
But “measuring up” to someone else is not the point. We are each unique, with unique voices, talents, strengths, and things that don’t come so easily to us. As one of my writer friends often says, “you have to keep your eyes on your own paper.”
There is one way, however, that studying other writers’ work can help rather than harm our creative spirits — what writer and Seton Hill MFA teacher, Timons Esais, calls “literary reconnaissance.” When we study creative work, we really admire and analyze what makes the writing so strong, we get all kinds of ideas we can apply to improve our own work.
The writing life is full of joys, as well as challenges. All we can do is become the best writers we possibly can, knowing that we’ll never be “done,” and there will always be more.
In my writing journey, these three pieces of advice have been really helpful. I hope they’ll help you, too. Write on!
After a long career as a professional dancer and dance educator, Lynn Slaughter earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2016. Slaughter writes coming-of-age romantic mysteries and is the author of It Should Have Been You, a Silver Falchion finalist; While I Danced, an EPIC finalist, and Leisha’s Song (June 22, 2021, Fire and Ice). Her short story, Missed Cue, appears in Malice Domestic’s 2020 anthology, Murder Most Theatrical. Slaughter lives in Kentucky, where she’s at work on her next novel, Deadly Setup; she also serves as the President of Derby Rotten Scoundrels, the Ohio River Valley chapter of Sisters in Crime.
For more on Lynn Slaughter, click on the following links:
Website - https://lynnslaughter.com/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/lslaughter2