I’ve been reading Really Important Stuff My Kids Have Taught Me, by Cynthia Copeland Lewis this week. It’s a compilation of things the author’s three kids have come out with over the years, but her skill at pulling out the good ones has resulted in a book full of perfect childlike observations that also work as metaphors for life (and writing).
Here are the ones that struck me as being particularly applicable to writers and writing.
“If the flowers you draw don’t look like anyone elses, that’s good.”
Also applies to your writing voice. It’s supposed to be unique. By all means learn from and be inspired by other writers, but don’t imitate them. Make your writing style your own.
“If you’re going to bother wetting the soap and messing up the towel, you might just as well go ahead and wash your hands.”
If you’re going to bother researching potential markets, and outlining an article and writing a query letter, you might just as well go ahead and submit it.
“Always have something in your lunchbox that you can trade with.”
This is why I’m always working on improving my saleable skills and building relevant experience. Never miss the chance to add something new to your skill set. Always have something to trade.
“Don’t expect a stranger to wipe your nose.”
Or find you a writing gig, edit your work, promote your blog or give you a free copy of their ebook. Build relationships first, then ask for favors (especially messy ones).
“Shortcuts aren’t always.”
Ain’t that the truth?
“You can either keep pedaling, get off the bike, or fall over.”
There really are only three options. You can keep going, quit, or fail. So (for me) only really one option
“Some weeks you really need Saturday on a Wednesday.”
And we all have those weeks!
“You think your book bag is the heaviest until you pick up someone else's by mistake.”
We all think our workload is the heaviest, our job the hardest, our time the shortest. Yet most of us have fairly average challenges. Stephen Hawking wrote A Brief History of Time, and John Morrow has achieved more than most freelance writers ever do. Your problems probably aren’t as insurmountable as you think they are.
“Getting up early gives you more time to play.”
I try to get up early and get some work done before my kids wake up – so I have time to play with them when they do. I always thought of this as getting up early so I have more time to work, but now I’ve decided to think of it differently, and it’s definitely easier that way.
“Who cares what happened last week.”
Rejection? Failure? A bad critique or a drop in blog traffic? That was last week. Anything could happen this week.
“It doesn’t count if your swing is going highest if you’re getting pushed.”
This puts me in mind of highly successful “celebrity authors”. Don’t get me started.
“Three hops gets you just as far as one leap.”
And if, like me, you’re a busy parent as well as a writer, sometimes three hops is all you can manage. If you can’t leap, take one small hop a day towards your goal.
“If you don’t like the birthday girl, don’t go to the party.”
Or the book signing, or the blog. Don’t follow her on Twitter either. Surround yourself with the writers you admire and want to emulate and don’t waste time criticising those you don’t like.
“You’ll have a lot more respect for a bird after you try making a nest.”
And a lot more respect for an author after you try writing a book.
“Using a word you don’t understand can be embarrassing.”
“Even babies like to grab for something just beyond their reach.”
It’s natural. You will (and should) always be striving for the next level. Pitch that high paying market. Submit that manuscript. Set a new goal and go for it.
“The end isn’t always where it should be.”
I think that’s why my novel needs a rewrite.
“The teacher can always tell if you did your homework on the bus.”
Your editor can probably tell if you did the rewrite on vacation in Hawaii, and your blog readers can tell if you wrote your latest post in front of “Big Brother”.
“Just because you can’t spell doesn’t mean you can’t write a good story.”
So true. But please use spell check, a good dictionary and/or a professional editor.
“Being Captain doesn’t mean you’re the smartest one. It just means you’re the one with the boat.”
Editors, publishers and other gatekeepers don’t always know best, but they still own the gate. Unless you self-publish. Then you own the gate. (I guess if you want to be Captain you have to buy the boat.)
“Getting lost teaches you how to read a map.”
Getting lost while writing a novel teaches you about plot, story structure and the importance of rewriting.
“Silence can be an answer.”
Especially to a critic, or anyone else who is negative about your writing in person or online.
“Poems don’t have to rhyme.”
Which means I don’t have to throw mine out!
“A pencil without an eraser might just as well be a pen.”
It’s fine to make mistakes. Just make sure you have the tools you need to put them right. It’s fine to write a shitty first draft, as long as you develop (and use) strong rewriting and editing skills.
“If you can’t swim, wade.”
If you can’t write a novel, write a short story. If you can’t write a whole article (today) write the outline.
“Sometimes you can’t tell if you’re leading the group or being pushed.”
This puts me in mind of some well-known writers, especially the blogging and social media ‘gurus’, many of whom have a fairly limited body of actual published work.
“Sometimes you clap just because everyone around you is.”
A phenomenon that explains some of the books that get on the bestseller lists.
“You’ll never catch a frog if you’re worried about getting your shorts wet.”
Or find an agent if you’re too scared to send your manuscript out.
“You can be whatever you want when you grow up.”
Thank God for that. I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
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