Learning about Life and Writing.

I was thinking today of all the things I've learned about writing in the last few years, and where I'm going to take all of that knowledge in the next two to three years (five if a PhD is involved). Here are just a few short lessons I've learned.

1. The world doesn't stop just because you can't think of what to write.
How many times a day do writers say "I have writers block, but something will hit me eventually." I know I make this excuse all the time, especially in the summer when I'd rather be hanging out with my friends then sitting in front of my computer writing. For the last year, I've put off seriously writing. I wouldn't finish anything and I would just leave things "open ended" so I could finish them later. Now, with graduate school applications breathing down my neck, I realize that I was making excuses. I would say "I'll do it later when inspiration hits", and then when it didn't hit, I would complain about having writers block. What I've found is that the world went on turning while I was waiting for something to happen. Sometimes you have to make something happen.

2. Writing knows no age boundaries.
For the last three years, I've hesitated saying that I'm a writer because I feel like I'm too young to be a real writer. At barely 21, I don't feel I'm on the same level as others, which of course is probably true. I've never published a creative piece, though I have several school articles online, and I'm not a respected name. Because of this, I often feel like I'm not capable of carrying the title of Writer. I had a teacher tell me recently that you are a writer if you write, but an author if you publish. As simple as that sounds, it helped me realize that I am a writer. I may not have thousands of books in print or be building my dream home with all the money I've earned off of my work, but I'm still writing. This, what I'm doing right now, is what a writer does. I'm young, but that doesn't mean I can't write, and it certainly doesn't mean that I can't be good at it.

3. Writing saves lives, even if it is just your own.
I have friends who are really doing something meaningful with their lives. Some of them are in the military, some of them are going to school to be doctors or scientists, and all of them used to make me feel insignificant. I felt that writing isn't meaningful on a grand scale, even though I've always read vigorously and was brought up knowing how important reading is. Sure, I've read books that have left an imprint on me. Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" taught me to go after what I want, even if no one else approves. "Harry Potter" taught me that love is the greatest gift you can ever give. "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" taught me that sometimes you have to just let go to get by. Despite all the things I've learned, as I've gotten older the feeling of insignificance has grown. But when I step back to look at everything in my life, I realize that writing is what keeps me going. When I don't write, I'm a wreck. Literally. My mind gets too full, and I stay stuck in neutral. This of course circles back to the writers block. Writing helps me stay sane. It saves me. And even if I never get published and no one else ever sees what I write, at least I've saved my own life.

4. The only rule is that there are no rules.
It can be hard going from academic writing to creative writing, especially after having the rules of MLA formatting pounded into your brain since middle school. In my opinion, creative writing is the best and easiest form of writing. You don't have to worry about rules and regulations. There's no limit to what you can imagine once you sit down to write. You could write about a real life experience, or dragons taking over New York. There are no rules. In that sense, writing is the most rebellious thing you can do. Write what you want so you can live what you want, and no one can ever stop you or tell you you're wrong.

5. Criticism isn't the end of the world.
I've never struggled with anything more than criticism on my writing. Writing is the one area of my life that I feel I have complete control over, and I put so much of myself into what I write that when someone criticizes it, even constructively, I get angry. Will this ever change? Probably not, but I have to remind myself every time someone else sees my writing that they will have their own opinion on it.

6. Criticism isn't always right.
Just because someone gives you a critique, that doesn't mean you have to listen. Did they think that your character should have said this instead of that? Did they think that your setting wasn't right? Did they think that you spent too much time describing something? Well, screw them, they aren't the writer. Never change something that you love just because someone said it wasn't how they wanted it. They aren't you, and they aren't writing your story.

7. Rejection is guaranteed.
Every writer has been rejected. It's going to happen. Personally, I think this is the #1 thing every writing class should prepare you for. It's not a possibility, it's a guarantee. Some of us are less suited to deal with this than others, and it's hard to keep going when you feel like you've been slapped across the face. The easiest thing to do is have a melt down. As terrible as that sounds, it's better to just rant and rave and curse the universe for awhile. Eventually, you just start writing again to prove you are better than what someone thinks you are. For example, right now I'm hoping to be better than one of my professors because they irritate me and think they are the end all be all of writing. Rejection beats you down, but then it builds you back up, though the process isn't immediate.

8. It's never going to be perfect.
My main reason for not letting other people see my writing is that it's not perfect. There is always something more to say, so I try to fit everything in before I let go of my writing. Of course this practice doesn't get me anywhere at all. Perfection isn't possible, and that's the mantra I have to live by if I'm ever going to show what I've done to others.


What's something you've learned about writing?

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  • Bridget Straub

    You are absolutely a writer. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • Thanks Anna, I've been struggling lately and decided to just sit down and focus on what's good about writing and what I can do with it. I love what you said about using writing to connect. I think a lot of people forget that.

  • Anna L. Grace

    "Writing saves lives, even if it is just your own". How beautiful and how true. If only I had understood that when I was 21. I became convinced of the insignificance of my writing. I allowed many years to pass trying to forget about writing and save the world. I almost lost myself in the process.

    I'm so happy for you that the same thing won't happen to you. Enjoy your writing, have fun with it. Play and create.

    I've learned that it's through our writing that we connect more deeply and meaningfully to the world. When we engage with the world through writing, we contribute. You are young and you write beautifully. What could be better than that? :) Happy writing to you xxx