Posts don’t usually have dedications, but if they did, this one would be dedicated thus:

For little Elisabeth, who wanted to be a marine biologist.

Ok y’all. It’s story time, and I promise I’ll tie it all to creativity and writing eventually.

I just wrapped up a vacation to beautiful Hawaii. It’s my husband’s and my twentieth anniversary, and we decided to celebrate with a trip to our favorite state. It’s beautiful there, warm and humid. I swam in the ocean nearly every day (saltwater therapy) and spent time every morning working on my novel. I have a deadline coming up, a promise to critique partners to finish the book finally, and I have a hard time taking time for my own creative work. Can I get an amen?

It was satisfyingly generative, the morning time I set aside. I’m loving my book, and loving the characters and the challenges they’re up against. I’m making steady progress and growing in confidence with each scene I finish revising. And I’m promising myself I will hold space to get more revising done now that I’m back home.

Anyhow, among other activities, when we were planning our trip I had talked to Noah about maybe doing a manta ray snorkel, but… he’s not big on snorkeling… and I can get seasick occasionally, but most importantly, I am scared to death of the dark water (and you go after dark to see the manta rays). I actually blame my dad for my fear of dark water… and sharks… we saw Jaws 3-D in the theater when I was three years old. That messes with a kid’s head, know what I’m saying? So initially I had decided not to go on the manta ray snorkel trip. But… MANTAS!

Manta ray swimming through an azure blue ocean surrounded by small silver fish and followed by two scuba divers

See, despite being prone to seasickness and terrified of a great white shark attacking me (in the deep end of the swimming pool as a child, or in any water I couldn’t see through for most of my life), I love ocean life! I wrote and illustrated my first “book” when I was in the third grade about dolphins, and how they are NOT FISH. For a long time little Elisabeth wanted to be a marine biologist, and a dolphin trainer, and have a pet dolphin like Flipper. I am a still frequenter of aquariums and can spend hours staring out at the ocean, pondering the life that exists beneath the waves and straining for a glimpse of dolphins or whales. My current novel is about selkies, mythical oceanic creatures who can take human form and live on land, and I have a selkie short story coming out with Wyldblood Magazine this fall.

Facing Fears

I decided one night that even if Noah didn’t want to go snorkeling with mantas maybe I really did want to do it and that I’d go by myself. So I signed up to go the next evening. Except I was super scared. Like… had a panic attack about it after I signed up and barely slept that night scared… because sharks… and darkness… and seasickness… and doing it alone…

I have all these stories about myself. Stories about who I am, about what I can do, about what I am allowed to do. Maybe you do too? Can you think of some? Some of those stories are true. But some of them—that probably served a purpose at one point to protect us from some perceived danger, real or imaginary—some of them are outdated. 

If we don’t take stock, and really question those stories we tell ourselves… we can end up holding ourselves back from things we really want to do! (Like publish a book, or sell a short story, or… swim with manta rays) We have to rewrite old stories in order to find what’s true now.

So I was struggling with fear and stories that said that because of those things I was afraid of I wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t do the thing I wanted to do. But I really wanted to see the manta rays! And I had signed up! For a while I was just frozen with fear at the foolishness that had caused me to make such a choice. I still had time to back out (technically… I couldn’t get a refund, so the money wouldn’t be wasted, but that’s beside the point).

When I went by the dive shop to check in before going to the harbor, I did the vulnerable thing and voiced my fear to the person behind the counter. They, and the snorkel guide later, reassured me that I would be well taken care of, that my fears were understandable but that the likelihood of sharks or drifting off into the darkness were really low… and I reminded myself that I had tools at my disposal to help with seasickness (non-drowsy Dramamine with ginger FTW, y’all).

That discussion didn’t magically make the fear disappear, y’all. But it gave me the space to see that I had options on this path to what I wanted to do. I told myself I’d just go down to the boat and see how I felt, and if I was too scared I wouldn’t go… that I’d just take the boat ride and if I was too scared to get in the water I wouldn’t do it… but y’all… I did it! I went by myself… and I snorkeled… and a manta ray brushed my hand as it barrel rolled past the board we were holding on to… and I didn’t get even a little bit seasick! It was quite possibly in my top ten life experiences… up there with swimming with the dolphins last time we were here.

If I hadn’t been willing to see past the stories I’d told myself about what I can and can’t do I would have missed out on one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve been privileged to participate in.

Sometimes to get to what we want, we have to be brave. We have to say “I will not allow my fear to hold me back.” And then we have to do the vulnerable thing and reach out, to receive support and help to do the thing, and to see that we’re not alone.

Rewriting Old Stories

Whether it’s that short story you’re writing, that book you have wanted to publish for so long, or that creative writing practice you’re hoping to kindle for yourself (daily journaling or blogging or something similar), there’s probably an inner story you have to combat about why you’re not going to be able to do it. 

The first step to overcoming it, to being able to rewrite that old story, is to figure out what it is, who told you that story the first time it appeared, and what it’s trying to protect you from. Bet you didn’t realize writing was going to involve so much therapy when you first started out, did you?

Then the next step, and I really do think this is key, is telling someone else about it, speaking up and being vulnerable. Discovering that the story you have about yourself is similar, if not identical, to the story someone else has about themselves is empowering! It’s not just you.

After that, pick one small first step you can take toward achieving your goal. And then another, and another. Make sure you know where your bail points are, those moments where you can walk away with minimal damage to yourself. And remind yourself that “bailing is not failing.” It’s all part of the process. Sometimes you’ll bail a hundred times or more before you succeed. It just depends on how big the fear, how deeply the story has rooted itself in your psyche.

Whether or not you succeed today, I hope that you begin to see that it’s possible to face your fears and rewrite old stories, to be brave and achieve your goals. If you need support to do that, please reach out. I’d love to cheer you on and help you find the tools you need to make your writing dreams reality.

A full rainbow across the stunning blue ocean of the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, with lava rock tide pools in the foreground
Your creative magic is necessary

This year started with so much promise for many of us. 2020, the year of clear vision, a chance to look back on all we’d been through, and then to look forward to a future bright with potential, promise, and hope for change.

And then reality came swooping in and knocked us flat with a left hook that none of us were expecting, clouding our vision instead. A pandemic, wildfires, economic strain, and for many of us, very deep and personal loss, made all the more painful by our inability to gather together.

When you add to that the collective cry for justice from the Black community rightfully calling into question the very foundations of our society… can you feel the seismic shift, the shudder of the Earth groaning as she draws a breath?

With these past months, we’ve been given an opportunity to re-imagine our world. We can’t go back to the way things used to be. We must wake from our long slumber, live with our eyes wide open. It’s time to make the world in our image now.

You (yes, you) are not alone

It is easy to feel small, to feel like your voice doesn’t matter, or that your dreams are not important. Even in the best of times, a lot of us struggle with those voices that would keep us speechless.

In the face of so much suffering, worldwide, you might think that writing fiction is trivial, but the world needs our stories. The world will always need our stories. 

Have you ever read a book, a short story, or a poem and felt seen? Like the clouds suddenly parted and the sun shone down on you after months of darkness? Stories have the power to move us to change, to stir our hearts. They remind us that we are not alone in the wide world, that someone else out there understands. They bring us truth, or much needed escape from reality.

In this time of intense emotion, of suffering, of deep desire for change, our stories matter more than ever.

Why we write

We write to remind ourselves that we are not alone in the world. We write to give shape to the stories that make us who we are. You may feel like no one is listening. Maybe no one has commented on your posts recently, maybe the algorithm has got you down. Maybe you’re afraid of how it will feel if someone does hear you, and responds. I want to challenge you to keep speaking your truth.

In order to live our fullest most creative lives, we must lose our fear of getting it wrong. Every truth, every story told is strengthening your voice, training your mind, and sharpening your perception. The act of creation is bold and generative. It’s powerful magic, and it takes courage and perseverance to wield it. 

Find your voice

Writing and changing the world takes time, takes dedication, takes a willingness to learn. You may have stopped in the past weeks and months, and understandably so. When we go through trauma, whether individually or collectively, finding energy and motivation to be creative becomes harder. Struggles and challenges you face in the creative process that used to inspire you can seem painful and disheartening. It may take time to remind yourself what habits will make you most successful. Ease yourself back into the process. Be ready to heap loving encouragement on yourself and on your fellow writers and artists. Find supportive, creative people to help cheer you on toward your goal.

There are a couple of great opportunities coming up that can help motivate you to get words on the page.

  1. Writing for Change: Worldwide ( September 7-13 (from free to $149)
    Put on by the San Francisco Writers Conference, this inspiration-packed week of conversations and craft instruction are a great chance to meet like-minded writers, build your writing community, and develop your skills in the craft.
  2. National Novel Writing Month (, November 1-30 (donations accepted)
    Also known as NaNoWriMo, this creative challenge is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re ready to build up your wordcount, there’s no better motivational community.
  3. Map Your Story ( Wednesdays, September 16-October 28 on Zoom (donations accepted)
    This weekly workshop in the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo is designed to help you plan your story as much as possible before you get started writing. We’ll discuss various methods of mapping and outlining, using resources such as Story Genius, by Lisa Cron; Outlining Your Novel, by K. M. Weiland; Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder, and The Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson.

However you choose to find yourself on the page, I hope to see you there soon.

It’s Monday morning, and I’ve been up since before the sun, struggling with my writer’s ego (aka, my ego). I committed a few months back to getting up before the sun and spending the first hour of my day revising my current manuscript. The theory is that I need to give myself permission in that first hour to focus on my own creativity since I will most certainly de-prioritize it once my “real” day begins.

Mermaid drawingIt’s a good theory. And for about a month and a half, it was a good practice. And then… and then I hit the muddled middle again, and my forward progress all but stopped. I got busy with everything else in my life and I wavered on my commitment to the writing. So I set it aside… and when I stop and ask myself just why I set it aside,  when I’m completely honest with myself it’s because I’m afraid it’s not “good enough”. It’s because I doubt whether I’m able to make it into something that will be “good enough”.

The difference between Ego and Good Enough

That is where I found myself this morning, when my only excuse for not putting more words on the page was the old collie who insisted on getting up when I did. (I absolutely can’t blame my writing woes on the collie. He’s a darling.) I realized the ego and fear in my current angst this morning, and sent out a tweet about it. And then magically, in my inbox, an email newsletter from K.M. Weiland appeared that spoke straight to the pain point I was experiencing.

We always intend to write something better than what actually shows up on the page. Always. With some stories, the gap between our vision and our current level of skill is more noticeable than with other stories. But the fact that we can dream up something so tremendous—even if we don’t yet know how to get it out of our minds and into reality—doesn’t signify failure.

Releasing expectations to allow for creativity

It’d be amazing if, every time we wrote, everything we wrote made us millions of dollars, or millions of new fans. And the writer’s ego strives for that to be true, because that would justify all the time we spend slaving over our craft. That would make it worth it… right?

But no, as K.M. Weiland so graciously points out, more often than not, our expectation of our creative work doesn’t match the reality. Who can say what reasons there are for this? They’re different for everyone. The point is that not every story is going to bring you fame and fortune, or even pay for the amount of electricity that you use to write it. Sometimes you just have to create for the joy, for the curiosity of a thing, and release the expectation of it ever being “good enough” or “sale-worthy”. It’s the only way to learn, the only way to grow. Otherwise we’ll just find ourselves spinning over the same old story time and again, safe and comfortable.

I’d love to tell you that when I realized that about myself, that my fingers immediately found their way back to the keys and the story that I was working on was released. It wasn’t. Learning that the fear is there, that the expectation of “greatness” exists, doesn’t make it go away. But it does allow for some breathing room for my creative heart.

And that’s what I want to offer you this morning. Breathing room. The permission you need not to be an international bestseller right off the bat, and the knowledge that … even the stories that aren’t international bestsellers are worth telling. They’re important to someone. Your story matters. 

A quick grounding exercise for the writer’s ego

If you, like me, are particularly feeling the pinch of the writer’s ego this morning, I want to offer you a quick grounding exercise to help refocus your priorities.

  1. First, sit up straight with both feet on the ground, or lie down flat, wherever you are, so that you can feel the earth supporting you.
  2. Now take 10 breaths. When you breathe in count to 10 slowly, and when you breath out count to 10 slowly, focusing on making the in and out last as long as possible, filling all the way up and releasing all the way out.
  3. Imagine yourself as a river, rushing rapidly or flowing swiftly and deeply. Creative energy and ideas move through you and out into the world. If you’re feeling cluttered and blocked by fear that you’re not good enough or that your story doesn’t matter, imagine yourself removing those blocks. Gently push them aside to make way for the words, or reach for the switch to release the dam.
  4. Now say to yourself one or both of these phrases “I don’t have to be perfect to be doing it right,” and “I will not allow my fear to hold me back.”
  5. Repeat as needed.

Your writer’s ego wants to be known and loved and approved of. Your creative heart, though… it just wants to be heard. So let’s go write. 

Got edits?

got-edits5I know I know, it’s been a while and now I’m posting something shamelessly promotional. But I’ve been pretty darn busy, so I hope you’ll forgive me. I promise a meatier post soon. For now, please enjoy this fabulous editing offer!

Got edits?

Whether you participated in NaNoWriMo or not, you have been writing like crazy for a while now. And I’m willing to bet you’ve got a whole manuscript to show for it! It’s time, friends. It’s time to book your editing slot. You’ve been working on that manuscript for long enough. Put down the pen. Back away from the keyboard. It’s time to take a breath and send your work out for evaluation. You can spend your whole life worrying about getting it right. I’m telling you. It’s time.

Whether you’re just getting to the beta reading stage or you’re ready for more serious, professional evaluation, it’s time.

20% off editing offer

Book now, before December 31, and get 20% off your project total… valid for all my services: editorial overview, a developmental edit, a copy edit, or a proofread. Just fill out the form below and contact me for a quote! I can’t wait to help you make your writing shine. Make sure to get your spot! I can only take so many projects per calendar year. You don’t want to miss out.

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NaNoWriMo Participant

NaNoWriMo ParticipantI have a confession to make. On the outside I may seem like I’m a pretty laid-back person. I’m reasonably flexible, supportive of others, in tune with creativity. The kind of person who, when you drop a bowl in the kitchen and it shatters, will just laugh and laugh (after making sure no one is hurt) and grab the broom to clean up the mess.

But on the inside, I’m a little bit of a drama queen. I dyed my hair purple because brown is boring. I have an existential crisis when anyone questions my established opinions, whether or not I’m clearly right. And I require a looming deadline to get any work done.

Is it just me? Does anyone else feel this way?

Well, I’m not sorry about the hair, I kind of love it. I continue to work on being more flexible and seek to align my opinions, my priorities, my beliefs with what is true and life-affirming. And lucky for me, when it comes to deadlines, at least for the month of November I’ve got one really big one set to keep me on task.

NaNoWriMo is here!

Whether or not you’re a fan of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you have to agree it requires a deep and dedicated amount of energy and focus to sit down and write, to pull thoughts out of the air and put them in a coherent order on the page. I love NaNo because it gives my inner drama queen the impossible deadline she’s been dying to freak out over. 50,000 words in 30 days? That’s about as massive as you can get. It requires discipline with very little wiggle room in order to be successful. NaNo lights the fire underneath my creative muse and shakes her into action.

Recently, I wrote a post for DIYMFA listing five reasons that NaNoWriMo can make you a better writer. One my favorite reasons that I feel NaNo makes you better: it forces you to push your limits. I’d like to unpack that reason for a moment here.

It’s time for radical creativity

50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1,667 words a day. Sure, Stephen King told you that you’re not a real writer if you don’t write at least 2,000 words a day. But I think we’ve all agreed we’ll follow that advice until it doesn’t work anymore. After that, you have to do what works for you, what is achievable and leaves you feeling successful and motivated to keep coming back to the page. In practical, everyday life, 2,000 words a day is just not feasible for most writers. Except for the month of November, when intrepid NaNoWriMo participants gather together and collectively commit to doing just that.

Writing 1,667 words a day for 30 days straight is definitely a challenge. It requires that you commit to sitting down each day for however long it takes to put those words on the page. It means that if you know in advance that you can’t make your words on a given day, you can plan ahead to ensure those words get written anyhow. And it means that if you fall off the wagon and miss a few days, you have to brush yourself off and do the math to figure out how to get back on track.

Beyond the practical, NaNo forces you to stretch out of your creative comfort zone. You will likely come to the page some days feeling an absolute void of inspiration. On those days, an act of radical creativity will be required. You’ll have to dive deep on those days and allow yourself to be raw and unrefined. Those kinds of days, while frustrating at first, will help to shape you as an artist. Instead of being ashamed of bumping up against your creative limits, use the opportunity to see just how much farther you can go.

Creativity is a lifestyle

You’re probably not going to keep the NaNoWriMo pace as part of your regular writing schedule. And that’s ok. The point of the experience is to ignite the spark of creativity within you, not so that it becomes a raging fire that consumes everything if it goes unchecked, but so that after the blaze of NaNo you can come back to the deep, slow burn of your every day. That slow burn is the actual goal of NaNoWriMo. The lump of words that form your manuscript draft is a byproduct of your creative life, something that you’ve been nurturing all year long.

You have a story in you. Sometimes it takes a radical act of creativity to bring it out.

Style Sheet imageNo matter what type of writing you do, fiction or non-fiction, a style sheet can be a vital tool for maintaining consistency in your narrative. If you write fantasy fiction or sci-fi, though, a style sheet is an absolutely vital component of your manuscript.

What is a style sheet?

A style sheet is an organized list of terms that you regularly use in your novel (or non-fiction manuscript) that are either not found in the dictionary at all, or found in a dictionary other than the standard one your editor refers to. A style sheet also contains information on specific formatting preferences that you have that differ from the style manual that your editor (or proofreader, or formatter) usually refers to. In fantasy and sci-fi, the castle and creature names,  and the planet and language names you create would all go into this style sheet.

Why use a style sheet?

Let’s talk about fiction first. Imagine yourself writing. You’re in the zone, creating, painting a picture with your words. Each spelling choice, each adjective, the names of birds and flowers your characters encounter, must be utterly intentional. They are your tools to show the reader what she needs to know about the world your characters inhabit. You need to make sure your terms, usage, and naming conventions are consistent throughout, or risk causing confusion. And you should be able to defend the choices you make, even if, when it comes down to it, the way you spell a word or a name is simply because you want to spell it that way. The best way to do that is to make a record of your intent, and a style sheet is just that, a record of intent and a way to keep consistent with your choices throughout.

Personal example time. I have been revising my own novel for publication later this year. As I am going through the manuscript I find notes I’ve left to myself to follow up on later. I left multiple notes asking myself what the name of the fictional town was that my characters lived in because in the first draft I hadn’t named it! Also there are specific Gaelic words that I use that I can never remember how to spell. A style sheet is a terrific way to keep track of all of these kinds of things, so as I’m revising I’ve started a style sheet note in Scrivener to help me keep track of everything.

Style Sheets for Non-fiction

In non-fiction, a well organized style sheet is your editor’s best friend. You won’t always be lucky enough to find an editor who is also a subject matter expert in your specific field. Some editors are generally experienced with the subjects they edit, and some are even very specifically experienced, but unless you know who you’ll be working with already, and know how intimately they understand what you’re writing about, your best bet is to make detailed notes to ensure that they don’t edit away the meaning of your work in an attempt to make it fit a specific set of standards.

When do you need to make a style sheet?

You can wait until the editing process and ask your editor to compile a style sheet for you. Or you can start your style sheet right now and save you (and your editor) a lot of trouble later. Some people like to wait until their messy draft is complete and they’re on to the revision stage to start compiling a style sheet. This is perfectly acceptable, as you may find that you change your mind about certain terms, or even character names, while revising your manuscript draft.

Sign up here to download your own style sheet template and get started on yours today!

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DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community
DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community by Gabriela Pereira

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’ve been following me very long on the interwebs, you will probably know that I am HUGE supporter and collaborator with DIY MFA. Gabriela’s vision of making writing accessible for everyone who wants to write makes me so very happy. If you don’t already know about DIY MFA, please take a moment to check it out, sign up for her email list, and get ready to take your writing life by the horns.

DIY MFA boils down the MFA experience into three components: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community. And her website, her book, her podcast, her newsletter, everything points the way to being the best, most prolific writer you can dare to be.

This book captures the heart of the DIY MFA mission and delivers it in a brilliant package. The amount of solid writing advice and actionable information in this book is almost overwhelming! Gabriela crams all her most powerful creative advice between the covers here and delivers a solid, continually reference-able resource to help you up your writing game, no matter what your goals are.

I am a firm believer and stalwart follower of the DIY MFA philosophy. I love the empowerment and encouragement that the DIY MFA community offers. If you aren’t familiar with DIY MFA yet, you NEED to buy this book. It truly is the most perfect and succinct introduction to the life-changing and writing-life-transformational experience you never knew you needed.

View all my reviews

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It
Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It by Stuart Horwitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not gonna lie, when Stuart Horwitz approached me with a request to participate in the editing of his newest book, I may have squealed with unadulterated glee like the little fan-girl I am. I have been through this book a few times now and each time I find a new nugget of wisdom that I want to diligently squirrel away to reference during future projects. I already reference Book Architecture all the time in my work as a freelance editor. Now I’ll be adding Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It to my “essentials” shelf.

Stuart’s break down of the process of building your manuscript is empowering; it’s freeing. You’re not bound to creating an outline or to following a linear path when you’re writing anymore. The tools he shares in this book (series grid, theme target, punch list) can help you make sense of the writing you have already done and be intentional about where and how you build and layer the significant moments as you continue to craft your manuscript.

And, bonus, Stuart’s book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts, shows you how to know when you’re done, how to give yourself permission to put down the pen on a project.

The storytelling element of this particular volume makes it different from other books I’ve read on writing, outlining, and crafting your manuscript. Stuart’s pith and wit made the subject matter all the more enjoyable.

I highly recommend this book (and his other titles) to anyone who wants to develop their writing process, who wants to look at their craft differently, and who wants to finish their manuscript while they still love it.

View all my reviews

This post is inspired by the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Week

This week, Gabriela from DIY MFA challenged her Street Team members to think about creative myths that keep us from diving in and doing the work of writing. She listed these 5 myths about creativity:

  1. Creativity is an exclusive club, and you can’t be part of it.
  2. Creativity is innate–you either have it or you don’t.
  3. Creativity is driven by chaos, so there’s no way to control it.
  4. Creativity is all about getting that one “Big Idea.”
  5. Creativity is focusing on an idea until it’s perfect.

But I know of another myth, one that encompasses all of these and more, one that we all use when we’re too tired or too scared to do the writing (or painting or playing or dancing or singing or whatever your medium is).

Art is hard

This myth… this is what we’re really thinking when we tell ourselves we don’t have what it takes, when we tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, or that we’re too “left-brained” to be creative. We think that the act of creating, whatever it is, it’s going to hurt. We buy into the idea that if we’re going to create something significant, something worthy, that we have to suffer for it. And if it’s easy or if we enjoy it then it’s not really art.

We’ve been fed this narrative our whole lives. But it’s bigger, older than just our generation. The trope of the starving artist was already popular in Puccini’s day. Why do you think La Boheme was such a hit? The artist must suffer and die for the sake of their art. If not, then what good is it really?

It’s ok to enjoy the creative process

Allow me to release you from the thrall of this myth. Art does not have to be hard… Art can, nay it should be drawn from the deepest seat of your pleasure and joy.

That’s not to say that you won’t be challenged by creating, or that you won’t have to practice parts of your craft to improve. But it never has to be hard. You never have to suffer in order for it to be “good.” You can come to the computer or the canvas or the keyboard or the stage joyfully. If you don’t, you have to ask yourself if what you’re trying to achieve is really worth it.

The key is confidence

Perfection is hard. Not making mistakes is hard. Measuring up to someone else’s standards is hard. But these things are not art. They don’t serve art. And they don’t bring us joy in the practice of them. Instead they make us overly cautious and afraid to try new things.

When we’re tentative and nervous and just looking for acceptance, it’s easy to feel like we’ll never measure up to the standards and expectations of the “creative club” we want to join. But if we can talk ourselves over the fear of rejection and criticism and just enjoy the process of learning as we create… That’s where the magic happens!

Stop pretending art is hard. – Amanda Palmer, The Ukulele Anthem

She’s dead right. We have to stop pretending that we’re not ready yet. Dive in. Have fun!

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

Want to know more about how to up your writing game? Sign up for the Writing Refinery email newsletter. You’ll also receive a free Character Detail Sheet that can help you learn everything you need to know about the main character in your current WIP!

This post is part of the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Day series. For more information about DIY MFA, visit

Everybody has a formula for success, don’t they? If you want to be a writer you have to do these five things. You have to follow these seven steps in their exact order, and if you do you’ll have unlimited success.

It kind of reminds me of those chain letters that then became emails that then became social media memes… you know what I’m talking about. “Make a wish, then copy this letter five times and send it to five of your friends within twenty-four hours. If you do, your wish will come true. If you don’t you’ll have thirteen years of bad luck.”

Most of us are savvy enough to spot a scam like that nowadays, and we aren’t as quick to pass it on as we might have been when we were young. But sometimes we get fooled. Sometimes the thing we want is so tangible and the success that others have had is so obvious that we become convinced that the magic formula must surely work this time.

These are not the steps you’re looking for

A quick Google search will show you what I’m talking about. Four pages deep and more (that’s just where I stopped looking), with list numbers ranging from five to more than two-hundred, and evoking the names of famous and highly successful authors like Stephen King, people are driving traffic to their blogs and attracting customers to buy their exclusive courses, all in the name of making you a better writer.

The formulas range from ridiculously simple to strenuously ambitious (Stephen King writes 2000 words a day and his yearly reading list is… monumental), but they all promise the same thing. Follow their formula if you want to achieve success.

And we buy into it every single time. But… tell me, how’s that working out for you?

Can you ever think of a time when you took someone else’s writing advice and it didn’t work?

Formulas for becoming a better writer are sort of like New Year’s resolutions. They seem like a really good idea at the time. I mean, it works for Stephen King, right? And who doesn’t want to be a successful writer? But come March or April when you’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to get your 2,000 words a day written and you don’t feel any more glamorous or successful, what do you do then?

Most people either give up completely, or go through a minor identity crisis. How can we call ourselves writers if the way we write doesn’t match the way Stephen King (or Ernest Hemingway, or Ursula K. LeGuin, or F. Scott Fitzgerald) do it?

The myth of someone else’s journey

There’s no one-size-fits-all list that you can apply to your life that, if you meet the requirements, allows you to call yourself a writer. Sometimes the advice you receive is just advice. It might not work for you, or it might, but it will never be able to bestow on you the identity of writer.

Your best bet, if you really need someone else’s advice to get your writing habit jump-started, is to read all of those lists of steps, pick steps from each of them that you like, and try them on for a while. And then when they stop working for you, instead of falling into a pit of despair that you’ll never be a “real writer”, just toss them out and make a new list. The only steps worth saving are the ones that work for YOU.

In the end there’s only one thing that qualifies you to be a writer (I know I said six… they’re coming, promise). What Stephen, Ernest, Ursula, and F., have in common, the tie that binds all of us writers together… We write.

So now here they are, as promised, six qualities that, if you master them, will lead you to a successful writing life…

Six qualities of successful writers

  1. Do we write every day? Some of us do.
  2. Do we write a certain number of words each writing session? Some of us do.
  3. What kinds of books do we read? All kinds.
  4. When do we write? Early in the morning, late at night, on our lunch breaks, in the stolen moments we get while hiding from our children in the bathroom…
  5. How do we write? Into a voice recorder on our morning commute, on the back of a napkin while waiting for a blind date, in a special notebook, on the computer with Scrivener or Word or OneNote or Write or Die or….
  6. Are we published? In ezines, magazines, fanzines, Big Five publishing houses, on blogs, on Amazon, NOT on Amazon, self-published, or not published yet…

Don’t be afraid to make your own list. Tell me what works for you, because you may have thought of something I haven’t tried yet, something that is really helping you get words on the page or a better chance at a publishing contract. We can all learn from the processes that others have. And maybe one of those processes will bring us success. But if you were worried that you might not be doing this writing thing right, I’ve got news for you… you totally are!

Every writer is different. If we were all the same, the world of fiction would be so utterly boring! We all start from different backgrounds of race, wealth, education… these and a myriad of other factors contribute to our journey to success. You could follow all the steps that Stephen King has for being a better writer and still not measure up to his success. Or worse, you could fall out of love with the capricious muse and stop chasing your passion to create. How tragic.

So write! Just write. Don’t look for validation or a fast track to success. Put words on the page and then share them with the world. That’s all that is required of you. Make your art. Tell your story. Find your voice.

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

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