Valuable Skills Learned By Telling Lies For A Living

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there’s tons more writing advice, contests, and pie! (Okay, maybe no pie.) Check us out!

Every once in a while, I like to sit down and think of about five things to make a post. Since I’m exhausted and stare-eyed after a long, very busy week that went straight through the weekend without even pausing to nod, I see this as a very good strategy for today. So, without further ado, here’s Five Things Writing Will Teach You, Or, Valuable Skills Learned By Telling Lies For A Living.

* Patient productivity. To be a writer is to know how to wait. You wait until you’ve got a finished piece or two. You send them out and wait for rejections to come back. You wait for the advance payment. You wait for the editor to read. You wait for the revision letter. You wait for the shipping date. You wait for the reviews. You wait for the royalty check. If you do not know how to wait without tearing your hair out and setting yourself on fire, this is not the career to you. The best way I’ve found to handle the waiting is to always be working on something. Write while you’re waiting. Don’t ever wait unproductively.

* Let them have their hanging rope. Let them knot it, too. To be a writer is to learn to step back sometimes. I could be talking about characters here–pretty much every time, you can see the tangle the characters are going to get themselves into a mile away. If you move in to save them before the time is right, there’s no damn story. I could be talking about Real Life here too. It’s like wincing when your kid embarks on Learning A Valuable Life Lesson, or watching a friend who won’t listen as s/he plunges for the cliff/bad breakup/disaster. Sometimes, you just have to let someone have their rope.

* It’s okay to be wrong. To be a writer is to give yourself the license to not know everything. So you took a bad turn in the story and have to rip out 20K and repair it. So you get an edit letter uncovering a plot hole you could drive a Chevy through. So you make a research error. So you don’t know what kind of underwear someone in Bohemia in 1613. So what? Writing can teach you to cock your head and say “I don’t know, let’s find out!” Curiousity can’t flourish when you think you know everything. Nor can you improve if you don’t admit the possibility that you might have made a mistake.

I will admit that parenthood taught me a lot about this too. I often feel like the worst parent on earth (with bonus moron sauce) because every day I end up saying over and over again, “I don’t know. Let’s find out!” But I figure this is better than the way I was raised, having curiousity and wonder almost beaten out of me because someone couldn’t admit to not knowing something small. I’ll take feeling like an idiot, with the attendant joy and wonder, over calcified hubris, anytime.

* Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch. You also do not get into the habit of writing so that you will automatically get published. You do it consistently because it maximizes your chances. There is no certainty in any career, really, and even less in creative freelancing. But discipline will make sure you can catch and squeeze the everloving daylights out of every single slight chance that comes your way. Chance favors the prepared mind, and all that.

* Observe, observe, observe. Everything around you is grist for the writerly mill. Everything beautiful, terrible, wonderful, horrible, ugly, nasty, awe-inspiring, uncomfortable, downright terrifying, everything is material. To be a writer is to digest everything a life can dig up and throw at you, to melt it in the crucible of the creative brain, to remake the world through words. This is heap powerful mojo, and it needs fuel to run on. That fuel is all around you, all the time, no matter where/who/when/what you are/do. Everything. There are a hundred stories in every kitchen drawer, in every breath, on every streetcorner. They are waiting for you merely to look.

There. Five things writing can teach you, if you let it. There are probably–what? What’s that? How many?

I don’t know. Let’s go find out.

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