WRITERS’ SECRETS: You tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine

What tips and tricks get you through the writing day?

Anyone who writes regularly knows that writing is a complex psychological and technical process, much more than coming up with an idea and happily typing on the page.  As writers, we trip ourselves up at so many stages:

  • We want to write, but never find the time.
  • We write, but we don’t finish what we write.
  • We finish what we write, but we don’t submit for representation or publication.
  • We don’t KEEP submitting until we find the right home.

And writing never gets any easier.  With every new project, I am besieged by voices that tell me my writing is terrible, my new  project won’t hold up to anything else I’ve written, and I’ll be laughed out of the industry.  Every project.

Recently, when I mentioned this on Twitter, one of my followers confessed that her internal editor has prevented her from writing any fiction since January.  That’s no joke.  For some writers, fearful voices might mean a project is never written.  A dream is deferred.

Here’s another secret: I have to fight to find time to write too.  I once knew a poet who disappeared to a cabin in the woods each summer to do his writing, but I never learned the art of the complete-peace-and-solitude model—the closest I get to that is a closed door and a deadline.  The less time I have to write, the less time I have to search for a magical state of “flow.”   Because of my career in journalism, I’ve trained my Muse to show up on a schedule, more or less, whether she likes it or not.

How do I do it?  By editing my freshest pages on the project, or my most polished.  And lots of music.

Because writers often work alone, too often we feel like we must suffer alone.  That’s why it’s so important for writers to seek out each other’s fellowship, and to hear writers they enjoy confess that they grapple with the same struggles.  I have had great teachers, readers and advice along the way.

My single best piece of writing advice might have come from my 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Estaver.  “In order to be a writer,” she told me, “you must wallpaper your wall with rejection slips.”  While that advice may not hold as true in the era of instant publishing, it was the perfect advice for an insecure artist about to weather her storm of rejection.

That one simple statement told me that it wouldn’t be easy.  It wouldn’t come quickly.  It would be the battle of my life.

Once I knew that, I could relax and get started.

What was your best writing advice?  What secrets get you through your writing day?


Tananarive Due has won an American Book Award and an NAACP Image Award.  Her audio MP3, “Secrets to a Writer’s Life:  From Inspiration to Publication” is available for instant download.  CLICK HERE for more information.


Filed under On writing

8 responses to “WRITERS’ SECRETS: You tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine

  1. Tananarive,
    That was good advice your teacher gave you. The best advice I received was while browsing online. Someone said: “Write what you don’t know about” This was specifically helpful to me because I like to write fiction and stall myself from writing because I lack confidence in a subject area or feel that audience wouldn’t think it authentic.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Great advice. The best advice I ever received was to “just do it.” Don’t talk about writing, sit down and do it. Like you mentioned, it’s hard to find time to write, you have to make the time.

  3. I love to write but I never considered doing it as a profession….I heard a long time ago, and I think it’s partly true, that “if you can see yourself as anything other than a writer…don’t be one.” Or something to that extent. But as a “rank amateur” :o) I still love to improve whatever relationship with the craft that I can have. Who better to learn from than one of my favorites?

  4. I recently read an amazing piece of advice from YA author, Jessica Brody. Basically, go somewhere else to write and play white noise on your headphones while you do. I started doing this while writing on vacation in Hawaii in a coffee shop and it was like instant focus

  5. Wonderful piece and advice. Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, Jamica Kincaid, Ntozake Shange are just a few who help me get through my writing. Whenever I’m feeling lazy and know that a piece I’ve written is not my best, I open one of their books and just reading how Toni Morrison makes every word count makes me say, Okay, Dessa, you can do better than this. It works every time.

  6. Sometimes the thing that helps my process most is to get up and get away from my laptop. Sometimes the pressure of the blank Word document in front of me leaves me at a creative loss. I know the story I want to tell, but transcribing it from brain to keyboard feels impossible. That’s when I go do something else (while leaving that document open and ready), like making breakfast. My writing mind never shuts off, so as I’m doing other tasks, the creative synapses start to fire. Then I go running back to the keyboard. I’ve burned a lot of bacon as a result.

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