Writing Advice: Preaching To Myself

This is just a quick post to keep my promise to myself to post regularly until, hopefully, a habit develops.

I have heard it said twice, maybe three times that when a preacher, pastor, minister is really passionate about a subject, a sin, a problem, when he – it is usually he – is especially excited, lucid, fluent, when the words burst our beautifully, fluently, brilliantly, pointedly, when they are at their most perceptive, cutting, unrelenting, uncompromising, unsparing, when the words seem to be flowing as from the mouth of God and he, out of all the congregation, is the most taken with what he is saying , it is because he is preaching about, and to, himself.

If the pastor is railing about adultery in the church, in the world, and the wages thereof, he has cheated on his wife, is fighting the temptation to, or is planning to do it soon and is hoping he can talk himself out of it. If he is preaching about greed and then launches into a love-of-money-is-the-root-of-all-evil rant, he knows he isn’t making as much money as he could be; there are greener pastures out there, but he knows that leaving the flock the Lord gave him just for a higher paycheck is exactly the kind of evil he is supposed to be standing against.

It is likewise for me. I’m not a preacher but I realized very early that the only writing advice I want to write a post about is the advice that is about me, me struggles, failures, delusions, obstacles, etc. I (almost) can’t empathize with writing problems I haven’t lived. I can’t post about them. Lived writing experience is not the only thing I have learned from, it’s the only thing I can draw from to create value for other people.

So, I want to offer up some writing advise, FOR ME, to you:

  1. Write every day. There is only one thing hard for me to do (number 6 is the hardest). But, I know that not writing on day, two days, leads to not writing for a week, than a few months, and when you look at what you haven’t accomplished, a year or two has gone by. The only way to get better at writing, to be the writer you imagine yourself to be (or know you have the potential to be), the only way to create a body of work, to accomplish anything, AT ALL, is to write every day, whether you want to or not, no matter how you feel, or no matter how bad your writing was the day before. But I can, and have let a day or two slip by, with a flicker of guilt or none at all, as if my time on Earth is infinite. I am almost didn’t write today.
  2. Revise, revise, revise. It makes everything better. Revise, especially if you hate what you have written and think you are a hack and you will never do anything worth admiration. Revise that piece of work until you feel better about it, you feel good about it, until your own revisions make you feel like a “real” writer. Revision is how we “fix” ourselves, how we make ourselves over into the writers we want to be.
  3. Read every day. You know the song: I was a voracious reader when I was a kid. I only put one down in order to pick up another one, nose glued to a book, etc. But, when I became an adult…I don’t know what happened. It is rare for me to read one book a week, three times a year. Reading is how I learned how to write, not teaching so much; English class is where I learned how to think about writing. But, reading, made me a writer. It gave me the languages, the rhythms, the nuances, the pacing. It gave me standards for my own writing. There is no substitute for it in a writer’s life.
  4. Punch the damn keys. Just stop trying to write perfectly, be poetic, be inspired. Punch the keys, set it down, then revise it until it is poetic and inspired. I get so caught up in writing one good sentence, and needing to feel inspired, excited, passionate, that I sometimes just get frozen in my chair, staring at my computer screen, wondering what I’m not as productive as other people. Learn to punch the damn keys and fix the prose on the back end, in revision.
  5. Never give up. Never. NEVER. Not on a story. Not on an idea. Not on yourself.
  6. Always be finishing. I have more unfinished stories than finished one. It’s 2-to-1 easily, maybe 3-to-1. And, I know, I know, you have to finish stories to get into the habit of writing stories. Everything in writing is habitual. Writing every day. Revising a specific number of times. Finishing. If you want to write novels, you have to get into the habit of starting them, writing them all the way through, and finishing them, and if you don’t…if you don’t get into the habit of finishing books, you will never complete, or publish a novel, or anything else.
  7. Don’t be afraid to write badly. The only thing that kills my enthusiasm faster or damages my self-image as a writer is number 7. My own bad writing is so bad, I can’t bear to look at it look at long enough to make it better, or to appreciate its strong points. I often can’t look at myself, even reflectively. I, you, have to be courageous enough to punch the damn keys, to put words on paper, on screen, no matter what they are, or how bad they are, or how many mistakes there are, if that’s what it takes to ultimately get an acceptable manuscript finished.
  8. Learn to deal with failure/rejection. The biggie. I remember my first rejection letter. It was crushing. It was the last rejection ZI received for years, I was so afraid of getting another one. The only thing that protects you form getting a rejection letter is not submitting another manuscript. And, that will keep you from getting published, from becoming the writer you are meant to be. I can still feel the disappointment, the anger, the almost…sorrow. That rejection letter made me feel like I wasn’t good enough and I never would be. I felt like a failure. It is the worst feeling in the world and you, and I, have to figure out how to survive multiple doses of it, or we will fail.

(And, I have no idea how to end this post. It is late and I am sleepy.)


  1. What I’ve found helpful to keep me on pace with my writing is to belong to an accountability group. Each and every Saturday, I have to walk the group through each of my goals and whether or not I achieved them. Publishing one post per week is one of those goals. It’s been a great help in achieving a regular publishing schedule!


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