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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

10 Things 2015 Taught Me About Writing

From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

10 Things 2015 Taught Me About Writing

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

A new year is now upon us, and with that comes the tradition of setting new goals and facing new challenges and achieving new victories. But I’m not quite done with 2015 yet. In fact, I’d like to think that my new year really began back in November—and it started with Nanowrimo. For those of you who haven’t heard of it yet, Nanowrimo gets a pretty mixed reputation. It’s an event where writers around the world pledge to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. While some say that it’s a great thing, others say that encourages churning out crap stories, which some writers then seek to publish without ever revising. But whichever your stance, I think the heart of Nanowrimo, to push ourselves as writers and learn from it, really resonates with most of us. So this is my resolution for the new year: I want to use the things I learned in 2015 to make myself a better writer this year. And I want to start a new tradition of my own—an end of the year list for how I grew as a writer.

1. No more excuses. I’ve stopped making excuses for why I don’t have time to write. Yes, I’m busy. I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom of two kids under five. I also happen to be a professional editor. And believe me, there are so many things that can and do get in the way of my writing. I’ve been stopped midsentence by everything from phone calls and emails to sibling rivalries and food being thrown. But this past year, I’ve learned to prioritize. It really is that simple. If you want to be an author, you have to treat it as a career, not as a hobby. And if you want others to take your writing seriously, you have to be the first one to do so. Sometimes that means putting everything else aside or putting a few things on hold to make it happen. Being an author is all about making sacrifices and learning how to balance those things that are important to you.

2. Challenging yourself is important. Whether you participated in Nanowrimo last November or not, challenges and deadlines for writing projects will likely be something you can relate to. We’ve all had them, either for school or work or personal goals, and we all know what it feels like when we succeed in those challenges. One way to keep that positive energy and use it to improve our writing skills is by doing writing sprints. Writing sprints will force you to sit down and hammer out as many words as you can. Even if what you write is completely crap (and it likely will be as a rough draft), you’re still doing yourself a favor. You’re pushing yourself and keeping the creative juices flowing. I actually did participate in Nanowrimo for the first time this past year, and believe me, what I wrote probably is complete crap. But it was a still a massive accomplishment. I pushed myself, and as a result, I grew as a writer—and completed another short story.

3. Daily writing habits are overrated—but they still help. This has been my kryptonite for years. I love writing, and I wish I had the motivation to do so every day. But the truth is, sometimes I just don’t feel like it. And that’s fine. There will be days where you can’t write or don’t feel like writing. But the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer is still to make it a habit, even if it’s not daily. Some weeks it’ll be easy, and others it’ll be a massive struggle. But in the end, it’s still our job as writers to sit our butts in a comfy chair—perhaps with a furball or two around—and write!

4. Failure can still be a success. Did I fail in 2015? You betcha. Loads of times. I fell behind on my blog. I didn’t write every day. I took naps when I should have been working on manuscripts. I let my kids watch a few too many cartoons so I could have some extra me time occasionally. Heck, I even fell short at Nanowrimo. I barely reached 10,000 words. But I had some tremendous successes too. I made connections with other writers. I finished the first draft for part two of a short story series I’m writing. I gained loads of followers for my blog and on Twitter and even got some new subscribers to my newsletter. I finally got over my fear of reaching out to the community when it came to my writing, and I signed up for my first local author event. I’ve written more this year than I have in the past three years combined! Bottom line, I GREW as a writer. And that far surpasses any how any failure could make me feel.

5. The first draft will be crap. As an editor, I really should have known that my first drafts would be less than perfect. But somehow, I got it in my head that because I know how things should be written, I’d be able to do it myself. Boy, was I wrong. But after getting over the initial frustration of my first draft being an embarrassment to writers everywhere, I used that to fuel the editing stage. My point is, not every draft is going to be a good one—especially the first one. And that’s okay! It’s what makes us human and what makes us writers such hard workers. We write…and then we rewrite. How good your first draft is doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you do with it to make it better.

6. I don’t have to go this journey alone. If you do a quick search on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other social media site, you’ll find swarms of writing groups. Most of us face similar issues in our writing, and one of the most awesome perks to this century is that you don’t have to look very far for support. There have been a few writing groups that I’ve joined over the past year or two, and I can’t tell you how much help they’ve been with my journey. I’ve had more successes because of their encouragement and support than I ever would have gotten on my own. It sounds mushy, but it’s the truth. We’re stronger in numbers.

7. There are millions of writers in the world. But there’s only ONE with my voice. This has been one of the hardest lessons for me to swallow this past year. I’ve let self-doubt creep in one too many times, crumbling my piles of success. Is my story really worth sharing? Am I really a good writer? Am I even an okay writer? Coming to terms with the fact that my voice really is unique was difficult. I struggled with self-confidence for a good portion of my life, and it’s only in recent years that I’ve really started to embrace it. And then there’s the fear of swinging the other way. Do I sound too arrogant? Can I really trust others with my ideas? What I’ve come to find out is confidence actually makes your voice. If you know what you want to say and aren’t afraid to say it, others will be passionate about your ideas too. And even if someone does try to steal your plot, they’ll never be able to tell it the same way you do. Why? You’re unique. There’s only one you, and no one knows your voice better than you do.

8. Plotting and pantsing can coexist. Personally, I’m more of a plotter myself—always have been. I like order and structure, and trying to write something off the top of my head goes against my nature as an editor. But you know what? Some of the most rewarding ideas for pieces I’ve had have come from pantsing. And after doing Nanowrimo and working with a few clients who are pantsers, I have a new appreciation for that group. I started Nano with a solid outline in place and an exact idea of what I wanted to write. And that did keep me on track and pushed me forward in the piece. I never ran out of ideas for getting through the story. But as I was writing, something else took over: my inner artist. And my characters! Sometimes they told me to go in a completely different direction—and I let them. If I had be stubborn with my outline and not listened to my gut, my story would have gone stale quickly. But by letting the story take a few odd and unexpected turns, my story turned out far better than it would have otherwise. And kudos to those who can pants and churn out a whole book! You guys are seriously talented.

9. Connections are a beautiful thing. Most of us at some point or another in our lives have been assured that the connections you make early on in your life can determine where your career goes. From personal experience, I can completely vouch for that statement. But making connections isn’t a hassle like I was led to believe. It’s actually a lot of fun. I’ve never been much of a people person, but being able to connect with other writers and even a few readers this year has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve had some fun debates and discussions with other people who love books, and a few of those have led to other opportunities. Several more of them have led to new friendships, new fans, and some new great books to read. Connections don’t have to be a pain. And if they feel forced, they probably aren’t genuine.

10. Marketing is a lot harder than it looks. Before I published my first book, I thought I had the whole marketing thing figured out. I did my research, read plenty of books on marketing, and had a plan in place. I was set. But I learned pretty quickly that there’s a lot more to it than that. Marketing is an ongoing process (including the pre-publication stage!), and mastering it takes some practice. There’s a fine line between promoting your books and spamming your followers. If you go on Twitter and search the hashtags #author or #amwriting, you’ll see exactly what I mean. A lot of authors are so busy promoting their books and retweeting other authors’ promos that they neglect to actually connect with their followers. Building genuine connections with other readers and writers is probably the most powerful marketing tool you have. The lasting impression you can make by chatting with people and taking an interest in them will go a lot further than some promo you shove in their face.

For those in need of some extra encouragement for their New Year’s writing resolutions, try this: start small. Setting yourself up for an unrealistic goal will only leave you disappointed and discouraged. Set smaller, daily goals for yourself, and reward yourself when you follow through. Writing fiction is challenging. I’ve been doing most of my life, and let me tell you, while you do get better at writing, it isn’t ever a piece of cake. So don’t sell yourself short when you only write 500 or even 200 words in a day! Every success, no matter how small, will lead to you being a better writer.

What did 2015 teach you?