Set Yourself Up For Writing Success
Here’s a question for you: what do you do as a writer to set yourself up for success?
I don’t mean get quick rich schemes, or social media analytics, or monetization.
What do you do to set yourself up for sustainable writing habits, productivity, and otherwise living a writing life? Let me tell you what I’ve learned from trial-and-error from over a decade of writing fiction and nonfiction, publishing short stories, and aspiring to build a writing career now I have finally gotten my footing… at least on some things.
Don’t follow others’ methods
The biggest mistake you can make as a writer is by following someone else’s writing method religiously. By all means, read about other writers’ methods, strategies, and paths to success. Learn from them. Experiment with them. But do not dedicate yourself to them. Rather, pick and choose the elements that work for you.
Writers are individuals. Our brains work differently from each other, in terms of habit-forming, in terms of creativity, and even just in terms of if you’re a morning bird or a night owl. One writer’s method — although perfect and successful for them — does not necessarily transfer successfully onto another writer. Trying to write another writer’s method can lead to frustration and a feeling of failure.
Learn from other writer’s methods and experiences, but develop your own.
Make your writing schedule fit you
One aspect of developing a writing method for yourself is the writing schedule.
There are a lot of people who advocate for everyday writing. I find that aspiration helpful for me, but I know other writers profoundly reject it. That’s fine. What works and is useful for me doesn’t have to be the same that works and is useful for you.
Some measure writing by ‘butt-in-the-chair’ time and those that measure by the word count. Those who are early morning writers and those who are nighttime writers and those who fit in writing in bits and pieces throughout the day. Those who work best with rigid regularity and those who work better with more flexible schedules.
Again, learn from other writers’ schedules, experiment with different parameters, and find what works best for you instead of chasing some aspiration of what ‘real’ or ‘serious’ writers do.
Be realistic in your goals
Medium is drenched in articles from writers preaching their method of posting ten articles a week, writing five thousand words a day, or publishing five novels a year. Good for them! But the problem arises when we use these outliers of productivity as mirrors for ourselves, thinking that if we just buckled down and worked harder than we could also achieve this same output.
Shooting for too large of a goal will always have you feel like you are failing. But, in terms of writing, as long as you are putting in the work as you are able, even if it is just in bits and inches, you are being a version of successful.
When you set your writing goals, either intentionally in a goal-setting strategy or unintentionally by what you subconsciously think you should be achieving, be realistic. When you have a day job or other time-consuming activities, when you have only a certain mental or creative capacity each day, there is a limit to how much you can write. You can also build this endurance over time.
Be realistic with your goals. Be realistic with yourself. Don’t create goals that will set you up for failure.
There are talented writers I have known personally that have never evolved in their career, never been published, and never gotten any recognition for one simple reason… they didn’t put their writing out there. They never submitted their short stories to literary magazines, post articles online, entered writing contests, or otherwise shared their writing.
It is scary to put your writing out there. What if it is rejected? What if it is ignored? What if it is hated? Let me tell you now, all those things are going to happen. While the first (and second…) times hurt the most, you do develop a tough skin and understand it is part of the process of writing and publishing.
Showing up, that is putting your work in front of an audience whether the internet, editors, or agents, is both a crucial part of the writing learning process and a crucial step in writing success. In terms of learning, you learn about the submission process, you learn how to polish a project, you learn about what does and does not work. (I made two unsuccessful attempts to get a writing blog going before finding traction here on Medium, for example.) In terms of writing success… no one can like what you write if you never give them a chance to read it.
Give yourself a break
You are human. Writers are not machines of output. Productivity is not the holy grail all else should be measured against.
Whether you’ve set yourself up with a more rigid goal or something more casual, you are allowed to take a break from writing. For good reasons and no reason at all. We all need to relax sometimes.
So take breaks, but also give yourself a break. You’re not going to reach your goals and aspirations all the time. That is no reason to beat yourself up. Beating yourself up will just turn writing into a negative experience. Maybe even set you on a negativity spiral. Creating an emotional environment for your creative process that is hounded by doubt and negative self-talk is — surprise! — not conducive to a productive and flourishing writing experience.
Wrapping it up
When it comes to setting yourself up for writing success, it all comes down to two major principles. Remember that you are human and remember that you are an individual.
As a human, you will be imperfect and you will need breaks. As an individual, you need to find methods, schedules, and goals that fit your needs, wants, and abilities. After that, it is all up to you.