Today is my 33rd birthday, and yes, I plan on spending it writing because that’s what I was born to do. I’ve learned so much about writing in the 33 years I’ve been dreaming about it, thinking about it and then making something out of it. Some of its been scary, sad, pathetic and inspiring, but overall I think writing has been pretty good to me. So I thought there was no better day than today to share the 33 things I’ve learned about writing at 33. So let’s cut the sentimental stuff and get to it.
1. Take chances. People either said go for it or burn it. I say go for it. The worst that happens is you fail.
2. Don’t give a shit about anyone that doesn’t give a shit about you. My mentor told me this after University of Iowa rejected me. Their loss. I’d always keep writing. I’d always be me.
3. Patience. Always practice patience. You can’t force time. Success will unfold if you keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing, which is writing your fucking book.
4. Always have a project in the wings or an idea in the well.
5. Think about writing as much as humanly possible. You should spend equal parts thinking about writing as you do actually writing.
6. Not everyone has to like your work. The arts are full of pretentious cliques, bad art, good art, wonderfully supportive people, people that can’t stand you and people that love you, but the key is to embrace it all. Enjoy the contrasts.
7. Laugh. Always.
8. Trust yourself.
9. Write encouraging letters to yourself. I was against this when I read The War of Art, but I gave it a chance. Now I’m leaving love letters for myself around the house when I’m working on a book that’s kicking my ass. I always get butterflies in my stomach when I find one.
10. Be territorial of your time. That book isn’t going to write itself, dammit. So, just say NO.
11. You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose. If your friends don’t respect your art, they can fuck off.
12. Be true to your authenticity. I can’t stand hacks and I can smell it from a mile away. Don’t share your story as a way to validate your worth or use people’s vulnerabilities to make a sale.
13. Stay home on a Saturday night to finish your book.
14. Love your writing at every age. I never met a writer that got worse.
15. Errors are part of the fun. Seriously, you’re human, not a cyborg. Just write and worry about those commas and hyphens and colons later. Blah. Blah.
16. Stop wanting fame and success. You have to put in the work every day. Writing takes discipline. You don’t master it (ever).
17. Write drunk. Always.
18. Get an editor that respects (not just sees) your vision. Trust yourself. It’s your story, so start acting like it.
19. Stop worrying about writing the perfect story. That doesn’t exist.
20. Don’t believe everything you see or read. Be skeptical. There are lots of shadow artists out in the wild.
21. Print every draft out.
22. Stop reading self-help books about writing, and ask other writers for help and advice. Collaboration is where the good stuff happens.
23. Publishing should be the last thing on your mind. Write your book first.
24. Practice your craft everyday. This means read and write. If you don’t, you’re not a fucking artist.
25. Read lots of poetry. I’m not saying this because I’m a poet, but it will help you improve fluency. Language is hard. Just because you speak a language doesn’t mean you are fluent. I struggle with language everyday.
26. Fail and love it. Try again. Fail again. Eat brownies and scrape the residue off your fingertips with your teeth. Write about that.
27. There’s no such thing as living in the moment, but you can write about it.
28. You have a responsibility to tell a story, to serve the characters and connect with your readers. It’s not about you and your ego.
29. Let go. I was obsessed with holding onto every piece of writing. Now, if something doesn’t work out, I let it go.
30. Cry. I do my best work after a heavy cry.
31. You are your best story.
32. Respect your elders and learn from them. Don’t get greedy. Wait your turn.
33. Writing isn’t always fun. Some days it will suck so much you’d rather rub a ghost pepper in your eyes, but you’ll do it because you have to. Because if you don’t, you won’t be you. And you rock.