Nine things I’ve learned from nine years as a professional writer

Some of you who’ve been around a long time know that July 20th is an important day for me. It’s the anniversary of the day I came up with the idea of Woven

Nine years, ten books, and two podcasts later, I’m still here. Still going strong. And it’s honestly kind of baffling.

I’ve gone into detail before about how this book saved my life. How the universe came together to bring me to the place of being a writer. So I’m not going to get super mushy today. At least not on here. In real life, I’m sobbing. Because I can’t believe I’ve been a professional writer for nine whole years.

Honestly, I am not the same person I was nine years ago. I hope you’re not the same because that would be kind of sad.

I wanted to do a bonus post today, sharing nine things I’ve learned in the last nine years. Then, I realized that I wrote an advice post a few weeks ago when Quiet Apocalypse came out. 

Then, I realized that all of the advice in that post was about being a writer. It’s not craft advice. And after all, it’s all about the craft. I didn’t offer bread to the birds in Diamond Park and pray to be good at marketing. I prayed to be a writer.

So today here are the nine most important pieces of writing advice I’ve learned in the last nine years.

Use cheap notebooks

Listen to me on this one. I love beautiful notebooks, expensive notebooks. I bought two Archer and Olive notebooks for my 2022 bullet journals, and those puppies ain’t cheap. I just bought a real leather-covered book for my Book of Shadows, and clearly, that was some money. But when I’m doing freewriting or rough drafts, I use cheap college-ruled notebooks as one would use in school.

The first reason is that I fill a freewriting notebook every two months and my rough drafts usually encompass up to five notebooks, and that would be money. But the more important reason for this is that it allows me to write shit. 

And you’ve got to have the freedom to write shit. Especially when you’re working on your rough draft. You’ve got to sit down, look at the page, and say, “I’m going to fill you. And because my only goal today is to fill you, most of what I fill you with is going to be pure, unfiltered garbage.”

That is not happening in a twenty-dollar notebook. That book will stand up and walk off your desk.

If you’re worried you went too far, write it anyway

I have written some things that frankly, scared me. I’ve written about gruesome murders, rapes, and tortures. I’ve written about people doing things that horrify me. I’ve killed characters who didn’t deserve to die. I even wrote about a dog being ripped apart.

It was fucking hard to do that. But I didn’t do it for shock value. I did it because it fit in the story. Because while I was writing, I felt like this is what needed to happen. And those scenes, hard as they are to write or even really think about, make for a richer story. And yes, it might upset some people. But that’s the next thing we’re going to talk about. 

Don’t worry that you’re going to piss people off

I’m in the process of writing a nonfiction book that’s going to piss people off. I talk about politics a lot on this website, and sometimes people don’t like that. Sometimes when things happen to me, I write about them in fictional settings. Some of those things are messed up, and I’m going to write about them anyway. 

And I’ll never, ever apologize.

My stories are mine. Your stories are yours. If you want to write about your life, write about it. You don’t need permission to talk about anything that happens to you. 

Writing exercises are crucial

I do writing exercises every day. Some days I’m bored by it. Some days I write some of the best shit I have ever written. Every day I come to the page. Because you can’t do something every day and not get good at it. 

It also helps with writer’s block. If you’re just used to doing writing exercises every day, the blank page just doesn’t hold a lot of fear for you. 

90 percent of writing books are bullshit

I love every single book Natalie Goldberg has ever written. I have worn out multiple copies of Stephen King’s On Writing. And I have a copy of Elements of Style that came to me in such a serendipitous way that God sent it to me.

I have never read any other writing book that was worth my time. If you have any book recommendations for me, leave them in the comments. But most of them are shit. Sorry. 

This isn’t to say that a good writing book isn’t worth twice its weight in gold. Good writing books are worth wading through bad writing books to find them. Just don’t feel like you’ve got to take everything in one of those books as gospel. 

Be honest while telling lies

I write about dragons, ghosts, and spaceships. That’s my catchphrase. I don’t write about things that happened.

But I also do.

I write about people dying at political rallies.

I write about postpartum depression.

I write about real things I’m really afraid of or things that have happened in the guise of fiction.

And it’s not always on purpose. My husband is an actor in AA, and he’s frequently found my work familiar in ways that I didn’t even realize. “Oh, this character is like our asshole landlady. Oh, I remember when this happened to you. I know the horrific political thing you’re referencing here.”

And half the time I hadn’t realized that’s what I was writing about until he pointed it out. 

Do you have to make your fiction a political statement? No, of course not. But the truth will come out of your fiction if you care about anything at all.

Make friends with other writers

My writing life blossomed when I started making other writer friends. Yes, it’s great to have someone to network with. Yes, it’s great to have people to swap beta reads with. But the best thing about having writing friends is having someone who speaks your language. The best thing is finding your tribe. 

Finding people who get the weird shit we do. Who understands why we can agonize over one word for days and then write 4,000 words in an hour. Who gets what it feels like to launch a book to lukewarm applause, and how awful/awesome that is. Because yes, no one seemed to care, but it’s also the best thing you’ve ever done.

It’s great to have people who can hold you accountable, with who you can pitch ideas, and who you can cry over rejection letters.

Find your writing tribe. 

You can learn from literally everybody

I have become a better writer by listening to advice from other artists. Not just writers. Poets, visual artists, photographers, and stand-up comedians. Everyone who creates has something to teach us.

Actually, everyone has someone to teach us. I heard the best advice from the CEO of Hooters in a podcast once.

Read autobiographies from creative people. Watch interviews, and listen to podcasts. Learn from creative people, writers or not.

Write for you first

Finally, this is something I learned from Quiet Apocalypse. I’ve mentioned this before, but this book is the most selfish book I’ve ever written.

I love haunted house books, so I wanted to write one. I am a witch, so I wanted to write a main character who’s a witch. I love demonic stories, so I wrote about demons. I wrote the story that I wanted to read. And it is my favorite book I’ve ever written. 

I think other people would agree. But even if no one else read it, I still had a blast writing it. Hell, I might sit down and read it myself someday. 

I would love to know if you’re a long-time fan who read and loved Woven. I’d love to know which one of my books you’ve read or want to read. Let me know in the comments so I can cry out of gratitude.

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you found something of value in this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.

Smashwords/Amazon

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