Writing has always come easily to me my entire life. I remember as early as sixth grade being allowed to pass in rough drafts of essays as finished, because my teacher was so impressed with my writing ability, even at that age. Throughout the rest of my school years, I never found myself nervous about writing essays or book reports, and often wondered why my classmates showed such anxiety and dread when it came to such a task. This skill served me so well throughout my intensely stressful private preparatory high school career, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I felt myself itching to try a format more creative than essays.
Sometimes, in life, you meet people that inspire you in unique ways. In my case, it was a boy that set me on the fast track to writing novels. Well, a boy, but also a meme from the internet. A friend of mine was messaging me on Facebook, and randomly sent me one of those “if you could choose any pill, which one would you take” memes. I can’t remember it exactly, but the imaginary pills touted things like “live forever” or “be rich,” and one of them was “make anyone fall in love.” And that’s where I got the idea for my debut novel. The protagonist? Me. The love interest? That long-haired guitarist kid I met a few years back but could never quite seem to win over. And the rest is history!
1. Sometimes you get second chances.
Writing a story about past experiences, good or bad, can radically change how you perceive them in hindsight. It gives the power back to you, and it’s so liberating!
2. Music is healing.
Seriously. Music has energetic properties that can change your mood. Great for any kind of creative work you need to do. Just rock out and forget about whatever’s bugging you.
3. Taking a break is productive, not lazy.
Burnout is real, my friends. How do you think I published four books while taking college classes? I worked myself hard, and that wasn’t always a good thing. Taking time just to clear your head is crucial. A good friend taught me that, and I know now, he was totally right. Do it now before you hit the wall.
4. Be honest with yourself.
If you’re writing a story, don’t censor your thoughts. If you’re talking to someone you trust about how you’re feeling, be real. Your emotions are valid and nothing you try to hide is going to stay hidden forever anyway.
5. Let inspiration come from even the most unlikely of places.
My first novel is really just glorified fan-fiction. I was losing my mind over a boy who didn’t matter in the long run and I needed to write about how I felt (to this day, the most Taylor Swift thing I’ve ever done). Never imagined that I’d be a “real” author because of it – but hey, at least something good came out of it! And now I’ve got a great answer when I get asked why I started writing books in the first place.
6. Writing is sometimes isolating.
It’s a solitary activity, but I’ve noticed people sometimes get that wide-eyed crazy look on their faces when I say I’m a writer – not totally unlike if I said I eat my toenails or something. Since that started happening, I made a point to keep that to myself until the friendship/relationship or whatever is secured. I’m not ashamed of my accomplishments, but I’m selective with who I share them with.
7. But finding friends with the same passions is life-changing.
I met some incredible author friends through a Facebook group for authors, and we’ve become super close despite geographical distance. We talk almost every day and support each other’s writing whenever we can. So, find people who do what you do. You’ll instantly feel less alone, and having a dedicated small group of equally eccentric creatives to vibe with makes a world of difference.
8. “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” – Anne Lamott
Mic drop. I saw that on social media one day, and I’ve never felt more validated by anything else I casually found online.
9. Give yourself the freedom to try new things.
On and off paper, be brave. Go zip-lining. Learn an instrument. Race Corvettes on a track. Live it up and take advantage of every cool opportunity you can.
10. That said, you don’t HAVE to take the first things that cross your path.
With the risk of sounding cliché, I’ll say your gut is king here. I was offered a writing job through a familial connection I had when I was first coming out of school. I didn’t take it because I knew I would strongly dislike doing it in a context that wouldn’t be a clear stepping stone on the path to my goals. I had the luxury of time on my side, so I waited on that. Sometimes grunt work is necessary, but you gotta be choosy even with that, so you don’t waste time on unproductive side quests.
11. Get lost.
Get lost in your story. Get lost in a book. Get lost in your passions. Chase what you love without limits. That’s where the real stuff happens.
12. Ignore the haters.
Ignoring critics is much easier said than done, but much more doable if you apply #11 to this mentality. If you know you did absolutely everything you wanted with your project, then haters will be rendered powerless because you’ll be focused on what you built more than the pebbles they’ve thrown to knock it down.
13. Let yourself outgrow things.
People, stories, anything really. I openly cringe at my first novel, but that’s fine because it shows how far I’ve come, and I like that I have that little snapshot in time, frozen forever. Even people can hold fond memories for a season. But when they start draining you, it’s time to let them go.
14. Don’t judge your chapter five by someone else’s chapter thirty-two.
We’re all on a different path and timelines look different for everyone. Just let your story (on or off the page) unfold the way it’s meant to.
15. Learn to love yourself just the way you are.
You are the stories you tell, either on a page or through the way you live your life. It’s all intertwined, and if you hate yourself, that’s just unproductive and sad. Instead, write, paint, and create things that make your heart sing. Find yourself again through the rubble.
16. Just laugh.
Laugh at yourself. Laugh at the things that happened to you. When they seem big and scary, just laugh in the face of your demons and make them feel like the low-budget jokes they really are. I laugh at my first novel, because it’s just sugary-sweet cringe-level one-hundred, but I still am proud of myself for chasing something that mattered to me at the time.
17. Trust your gut (especially for creative decisions).
People haven’t always liked my cover art or other directions I took with my writing. But I wanted it to be done that way for a reason. And you can’t please everyone, so at least do what you like.
18. Don’t overthink things.
I can’t say enough about this. But I’ve really been digging the new All Time Low album and they say “You’re gonna be all right if you just stop thinkin’ it over” (from their song “Safe”) and I felt that deeply. Just decide now to change your mindset if you’re a chronic over-thinker like me so it doesn’t hold you back from good things later.
19. Take what you like; ignore what you don’t.
Being a creative person means you get endless amounts of unsolicited advice from well-meaning people. But don’t let it bury your natural uniqueness. There’s only one of you, so celebrate that!
20. Being extraordinary is a blessing and a curse.
I know that what I’ve accomplished at a relatively young age is pretty rare, and I’m proud of myself. But being reminded of that all the time can also be isolating. Add in a good dose of the only-child syndrome, and it can be a suffocating brew. Instead, ground yourself in the common ground you do share, even with non-writer friends.
21. Don’t regret your past.
It got you to where you are now, and you’re probably stronger and more resilient because of it. That being said, it’s also totally legitimate to seek help for processing things that are bigger than you feel you can handle on your own. I’ve done that on many occasions, and it can help you find a completely new mindset that you would never have found on your own otherwise.
22. Celebrate the little things.
Being an author is a series of tiny things that build up to larger goals. Wrote a few pages today? Awesome. Made a healthy lunch? Dope. Got out of bed before 10? Working on it. Life is messy and chaotic, but it’s also a massive collection of smaller moments.
23. Own your mistakes.
Humility is key here. Real bravery is owning up to stuff and allowing yourself to learn from others. As painful as it is, that’s how you grow (both as a person and as a writer).