I published my first book in October 2001. Since then, I have written a total of 30 books in two languages, including two novels. I am by no means a literary giant. Rather, I would describe myself as a prolific and industrious writer. Here are ten of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the process.
1. Writing is Difficult
Writing is difficult, it requires practice, and there are no short cuts. The only way to get better is to work at it.
2. Writing is Rewriting
Rewriting is the difference between amateurs and professionals. Amateurs write a piece and say it is ready. Professionals only feel like they are making progress on the third rewrite. It is a time-consuming and less creative part of the writing process but rewriting is absolutely necessary.
3. Everything Has Already Been Written
Nothing is new under the sun. Everything has already been written. The only unique thing that you bring to the table as a writer is you. I have sometimes forgotten this lesson and my books have suffered as a result. However, when I have dared to put my thoughts, emotions, and experiences front and center, I have created some of my best work.
4. Preparation is Everything
When I write, I live by the words of Abraham Lincoln who said that if he were given six hours to chop down a tree, he would spend the first four sharpening the ax. I prepare everything — from the book title to chapter titles, subtitles, and bullet points — before I start writing. I want my fingers to be itching for the keyboard before I write a full sentence. My reasoning is simple. The two tasks require different modes of thinking. Preparation requires big picture thinking while writing requires detail orientation. In my case, I don’t want to get sucked into the details before I complete assembling the big picture.
5. Language Is Evolving
Language is not static. It is evolving. It is a fluid social contract that helps us communicate with each other. Yes, we, as writers, must follow the basic rules of grammar to be understood by others, but we should also allow ourselves to be creative, even when writing nonfiction.
6. Clear Thinking Produces Clear Writing
Most of my writing doesn’t happen while pounding away at the keyboard. In fact, most of what I end up writing has already been created during long walks or while taking baths. That is where I do my best thinking. Writing is simply an expression of thought. My time at the keyboard often feels like dictation or catharsis because I have already written everything in my mind.
7. Focus On Ideas, Not Words
The first time I deleted a whole chapter from my book, I was devastated. I had spent so much time writing and rewriting that chapter… but it had to go. Ever since then, I have been committed to the big idea, not to any words in particular. When I delete something, it still hurts, but I get over it quickly. It’s not like I am cutting off a part of my anatomy.
8. I Love Writing
I love writing. I would write even if no one read what I have written and I never got paid for it. Unfortunately, that has been true at times — cue the violins — which is why my love for writing has been and continues to be the driving force behind my industriousness. To anyone who wants to be a writer I would say, let your love for it lead the way. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. If you love it, don’t let anyone or anything stop you from it.
9. Marketing is Harder Than Writing
The cold hard truth is that nobody is waiting for your book. Self-publishing is like putting one book on the back shelf of the biggest book store in the world. The chances of someone stumbling upon it are astronomically small. You have to bring your book to people’s attention. Yes, those people, who have become masters at ignoring stuff because of all the stimuli they experience every day. To me, marketing is harder than writing, but, to sell books, it needs to be done.
10. Keep Learning
I am completely self-taught when it comes to writing. My favorite books on the subject are On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. For those who can afford to study writing in college, I say go for it. For those who have access to editors, I say cherish their input. For those who have access to neither, I say find a way. Always be open to learning and improving.
On that topic, please share your writing advice and list your favorite books on the craft in the comment section. That way, this short article will increase in value.