How To Be A Writer: Write What You Know

I swore I’d never write a How-To, because I’m no expert, except maybe in regard to how much chocolate is too much chocolate–which, for the record, is a figure that simply does not exist, but I do know a thing or two about the craft of writing. And since I took the leap from keeping my writing shackled up only for my eyes to see to moving my stories here for everyone to bear witness, I have heard a lot of people say “I wish I could write”. Friends, family and supporters share the belief that my gift is one that they themselves could never harness. So I was inspired to write this post, even to give it a How-To title, because I think that there is no reason everyone can’t write.

In fact, I think everybody should write. In some capacity or another, regardless of how “good” you think you are or aren’t. Writing allows you to work through your thoughts and your emotions in a way that nothing else does, and I think there is something incredibly freeing about the whole process. But maybe that’s just because I have a passionate love affair with the way words fall onto a page and make up the stories that otherwise live a life only in my mind.

But in all seriousness, I think we all have the capability, and though it may come more easily or creatively for some of us, that’s not to say that we can’t still practice. Which leads me to my first suggestion for those of you who “wish you could write”.

Practice. Over the years I have filled page after page, and this means you’d be hard pressed to find me without a journal in my handbag. I take every opportunity I can to jot down, brainstorm, and elaborate. Some days it comes easy and the ideas flow like juice from a ripe peach, but other days my thoughts are dried up and it’s impossible to get any sort of momentum going. On these days I use writing prompts, which I find online or in my book 642 Tiny Things To Write About. It seems obvious, we’ve been taught from a young age that practice makes perfect, and while I think that perfection is not the goal (see below), I do believe that practice does help. Immensely. Make it a ritual and hold yourself accountable. Carve out a little time each day to write it out. You’ll strengthen your skill, and you’ll put a target on your back for the inspiration seeking out a host (i.e., ideas will come more frequently and with less effort).

Be open. Let your freak flag fly. Be weird. Be fiercely honest and give the words permission to spill out of you in whatever order they come. Sometimes I write things that I can’t even believe came out of me–they are magical stories, or new ideas, or challenging feelings that I hadn’t before considered. This happens on those days where the juices are flowing and the only thing holding me back is the speed at which I can move my pencil across the page. Do whatever it takes to make this openness possible. Write in solitude. Shackle your journals in barbed wire. Keep everything behind lock and key. Until you write something that makes you say “this is the shit”, and then share it (see below) with the world, or at least with one person you trust.

Write what you know. This is the simplest suggestion that I have. Whatever thought or lack thereof that you have for any given day, run with it. Write about the foods you’ve tasted, the stuff you’ve learned, or what happens in your day. Write about the things you’ve been told, or the things you’ve seen–stuff that moved you or inspired some sort of reaction inside you in one way or another. We all have had different experiences and equally different reactions to the same experiences so write what you know, and what you want others to know. Write what’s real for you–feelings, goals, beliefs, desires. And as long as you’re following the previous suggestion, your stories should be raw, real, and unapologetic. Because writing is a place where you can shut off all of the should be’s, could be’s, and need to be’s you’ve learned in society and just be–you and what you know.

Don’t have expectations. Nothing kills creativity more than putting limits on it and expecting perfection. Don’t complicate the process by trying to write something wonderful and moving. Don’t expect that everything should be and will be especially when you first start out, but even if you’ve been writing for years. I’ve written plenty of things that made me say “well that sucks”, but it’s never stopped me from continuing to hone my skill. And I’m sure I’ll have many more flops that feel unmotivated and weak, but it’s all about getting it out onto the page and not so much about worrying how it will turn out.

Share your stuff. Let me just preface this with–this is freaky, and downright terrifying. But there is something so empowering about being vulnerable and giving another person permission to see inside your beautiful brain. It took me a long time to get to this place, like, a long, long time. But I’ve learned and grown with each reading eye, each rejection letter, and each “sucky story” that I didn’t even like myself. In sharing my work I have developed a confidence in my capabilities and my worth that I may not have developed otherwise. And even on a platform like this, where feedback is minimal, it still feels so heartening to know that someone else may read and feel something, anything, from my words.

I hope that this will empower you to recognize your own capabilities. And if writing is not your thing take these suggestions and apply them to any endeavor in your life, creative or not, because all life is is a bunch of practice and writing what you know.


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