1) Write everyday.
No matter what. The simple act of moving a pen across a page or typing words on a screen keeps the brain connected to the fingers. It’s like a pianist practicing her scales. Write from your guts. Write the forbidden. Tell the truth as you know it, and trust it. Let the characters live and breathe, and let go of the result.
2) Keep a journal.
Express yourself on the page. Burn through your self-consciousness. Burn through your ideas of what it means to be human. Express your pettiness, your darkest desires, your most frightening thoughts, what makes you laugh, what makes you hopeful, hopeless, and horny. For nothing human is alien to us. Connect to that uninhibited place in yourself, that soul place that seeks freedom.
3) Read. As much as you can.
We are storytellers and reading is part of our job description. However, don’t beat yourself up because you don’t think you’ve read enough. Writing is still more important than reading.
4) Support other writers.
Being a writer takes courage and sensitivity. There is a difference between opinion and constructive criticism. Don’t be jealous of another writer’s success. Your turn is coming. And buy books. We may spend most of our lives alone in our rooms, but we are still a community.
5) Be careful with whom you share your work.
Even well-meaning friends are not necessarily equipped to offer constructive criticism. Ask someone whom you trust, whom you feel safe with, and who is more curious about what you’re attempting to express than they are in telling you how they would have written your story.
6) Don’t show your work to anyone until you have done all you can.
It is disrespectful to the reader, a sure sign of an amateur. “I’m not really done, but I want to know what you think so far.” This is self-sabotage. How many potentially brilliant works have been stillborn because the writer gave it out too early, got criticized and decided to chuck it, rather than doing the hard work of completing a fully realized first draft?
7) Stay out of the result.
Our job is to write the thing. We are the last people who can be truly objective about it, at least while we are in the middle of it. So don’t get into the future. Don’t start calculating how large an advance you’ll need in order to quit your job. Our job is to create a body of work. Period.
8) Trust the process.
You are not the author, you are the channel. Our job is to remain curious and take dictation.
9) Write the first draft as fast as you can, before you have time to think.
Logic is the death of creativity. There is nothing logical about human behavior. When I hear writers say, “My character would never do that,” I think to myself, they are not being curious. Our job is to support whatever our subconscious is giving us. If we have the notion that our nun robs a bank, then we must be curious about why this happens rather than explaining to ourselves why it shouldn’t. I think of drama as “characters behaving uncharacteristically.” Don’t be logical. Don’t insist that your first draft be well-written. Focus on character and story rather than on the quality of the prose.
10) Be kind to yourself.
Artists are channels. It’s difficult to write transformative stories if we are not willing to be transformed.