I really enjoy finding out what works well for other writers. Sometimes a tip hits home and I give it a try. Other times I wish I could follow suit because something seems smart. Other times I know myself well enough to know that something won’t work for me (like mandatory daily writing).
Below, author Colette Freedman shares her writer life lessons with us. I think numbers two and three are my favorite, I wish I could do number seven, and believe strongly in number eight.
What about you?
Please tell us in the comments — and please welcome Colette Freedman to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Ten Lessons I’ve Learned Being A Writer
by Colette Freedman
When I started writing, I had very few guides. This was long before the days of cell phones as an extra appendage (guilty), rhymezone.com (a must when writing song lyrics) and the luxury of research at one’s fingerips and informative blogs beyond one’s wildest imagination. I just had the basics: libraries, parental advice, teachers’ thoughts, a lot of television watching and my own instincts. The following list is one which has taken me several years to perfect. Some of them, like numbers one and six may seem obvious, even though they involve the discipline we need as writers. Numbers five and seven are less obvious, but equally as important. In fact, each of the ten lessons I’ve learned has helped me to become a better writer and most of the list has come about by my own personal flaws of making mistakes and “doing the opposite”…ie refusing to vacation for fear of missing out, saying “yes” far too many times, and drowning in self doubt. As you pursue your craft, no many what your genre or platform, I hope that my lessons, learned from my personal mistakes, will help!
1. Write Every Day.
Writing often starts as a hobby. You do it whenever you want; maybe weeks go by between sentences. Writers write. They do it every day. Even if you work at Starbucks or in a law firm or in an advertising agency or as a lacrosse coach and write in the evenings and at weekends, you have to treat writing as a job. I worked in all of the above jobs (and many more). These ‘paying jobs’ took up most of my day and I was often exhausted when I got home and just wanted to turn on the tv and lose myself in a sitcom. But I still had another job to do. Writing is work and it takes work to actualize an idea into a fleshed out reality. If you believe you are a professional author and have the discipline of one, eventually you will become one (it happened to me!).
2. Say no.
Say it immediately and be definitive.
It’s both the easiest and the hardest one on the list. Life is full of wonderful opportunities and fabulous entertainment. But it is all a distraction. As a writer, you need to pick and choose what is more important to you – an evening writing, or a night at the movies. If you are not answering writing more than 50% of the time, you’re not really a writer.
3. Don’t be afraid to collaborate.
I like to work in three mediums: novels, plays and films. I’ve both written alone and I’ve collaborated in all three mediums and I absolutely love collaboration. When it works well, it is wonderful, although if you having a falling out with your partner, then it can be tricky. The “baby” that you have created will link you and your partner together indefinitely. But let’s focus on the upsides, and there are many. The biggest upside is that you will have someone willing to go on the same adventure with you.
4. Get a comfortable chair.
I’ve written on everything from high back kitchen chairs to bean bag chairs…and I have a bad back to prove it. When I was working in advertising, my boss bought me an Aeron Herman Miller and it made all the difference. It’s ergonomic and I am able to focus more on the words on the computer than the aches and pains in my back. And if you are going to sit for hours at a stretch, remember: proper posture! Which leads me very neatly to…
Working for hours on end is taxing on the body and eyes…. no matter how old you are. Stretch, take a walk, get a snack but get up every once and a while to move the blood around in your body. Why do you think so many authors have dogs? They force us to get up every few hours. (I speak now from experience; I have two greyhounds who love to walk and are always able to help me out on this one.)
I’ve said it in every interview. To write well, one needs to read well. Read voraciously in genres which interest you and explore ones that don’t. Read. “What are you reading?” is always the first question I ask people who tell me they are/about to be/are writers. You’d be astonished you say, “Oh, I don’t have time to read.” I lose interest right at that point.
Ultimately, much of your writing life is going to be spent sitting in a room staring at a screen. That’s a quick way to go stale. You need to take a break (This is an expanded version of item 5). Pretty much every good idea that’s ever come to me occurred when I’ve been on vacation. And I don’t mean Italy or France (though those are terrific sources of inspiration), but Boston, Napa, Vegas, sunset Blvd – pretty much anywhere other than in your office, staring at a screen. When you are thrust in a new environment, it does something to the creative juices to get them swimming. And of course, the part B of this, is to make sure that if a new idea comes to you that you have the tools to capture it. There are lots of note taking options on phones and iPad, but I find that an old fashioned notebook, pen or pencil works just fine!
8. Pursue your passions and engage.
I love musicals and I’ll go to any show I can. (I’m even writing one right now in collaboration with an amazing partner. (see Collaborating, #2). If you love music or dance or art or politics or sports, enjoy them. Watch them. Participate in them. It fulfills you not only as a person but as an artist.
9. Get a mentor.
And what is a mentor? It can be someone who has done what you are trying to do. It can be a teacher or a friend or someone who is already successful. It it can be a writing group – who encourages and supports you in your own efforts. You probably don’t even have to seek one out as they’ve been there the entire time. (And yes, I have been lucky to have several mentors and advisors.)
10. Believe in yourself.
As you start out on your writing career, you will find scores of people who will tell you that you are wasting your time. Ignore these naysayers. Confidence is the most important trait you can have in writing. This is a lonely field and there will be many times when you will find yourself riddled with self-doubt. But you press on. The rejections will come fast and furious (for every novel, play and screenplay I’ve had produced, I have had at least a dozen rejections). You must believe in yourself fully before other people can believe in you.
Colette Freedman is an internationally produced playwright with over 25 produced plays, Colette was voted “One of 50 to Watch” by The Dramatist’s Guild.
Her play Sister Cities was the hit of the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe and earned five star reviews: It has been produced around the country and internationally, fourteen times including Paris (Une Ville, Une Soeur) and Rome (Le Quattro Sorelle). The film version has been optioned and is in pre production.
She has co-written, with International bestselling novelistJackie Collins, the play Jackie Collins Hollywood Lies, which is gearing up for a National Tour. In collaboration with The New York Times best selling author Michael Scott, she wrote the thriller The Thirteen Hallows (Tor/Macmillan).
Her novel The Affair (Kensington) came out January 29, 2013. The play of the novel earned both critical and commercial success as it toured Italy February through May 2013.
Her novel The Consequences (Kensington) was released on January 28, 2014
You can find out more about Colette’s books here:
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/19Rc1zO
Good Reads: http://bit.ly/1ehlamu
10 thoughts on “Guest Post: Ten Lessons I’ve Learned Being A Writer by Colette Freedman”
A great list, Colette. Words to remember. And live by.
Thanks Yona. It took me a long time to be able to ‘practice what I preach’
Thanks so much. A few months ago, I realized I wasn’t making enough progress on my WIP, so I decided to put it on my to-do list every day for a particular time. It wasn’t necessarily the same time every day, ie it might be 9:00- 11:30 (when I had to pick up a granchild at day care or some other inflexible thing) on Tuesday and 8:30 – 11:00 on Wednesday (when I go to a yoga class), etc. I also decided to go into the guest room and work there. Those two things have made a huge difference! Both the physical separation from the rest of my house/life and the lifting of writing to my #1 priority — not “I’ll write as soon as I call the plumber and pay the bills and make up a shopping list” — have focused my attention and intention. And being in a writers’ group has been instrumental. I do have to get a better chair, though!
Carole, Making a ‘sacred writing space’ like your guest room is a terrific idea. For me, combating distraction has been leaving my phone in whatever room I’m NOT in!
Colette has a great list here. I agree that it is important to step out of your writing room every once in a while for a change of scene. Inspiration can come from new experiences.
Thanks Elizabeth. I’d say 90% of my inspiration has come from new experiences. It’s been an invaluable lesson!
I have a special room where I like to write. I keep a notebook on my nightstand for those times when an idea pops up that I want to remember. When I know I can sneak away for an hour or two—or three, I bring the notebook with me and then, it’s just me and the keyboard (and a cup of coffee)!
Colette, this is a terrific list with some very good reminders even for those of us who have been at the writing craft for a long time. I wrote my first novel in daily 15-minute increments while working 12-hour days at my paying job. It was very disjointed but at least gave me something to shape and refine, and it was finally published this year. Now I’m going chair-shopping. Thanks for sharing!
Colette, insightful, inspiring, especially on a morning when it’s difficult to get going!! Believe in yourself and believe in your writing, and I always add believe that your writing is contributing something the repair of this world…Caroline (Before My Eyes, SMP: 2014).
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