How (not) to write

by Dawn Gresko 

So there’s a ton of material on the world wide web (and the whole wide world) telling you how to write. What about how not to write?

Instead of sharing strategies for how I’ve gone about composing my own poetry and prose, which is a totally subjective process and could never apply to every person reading this, I thought it might be better to offer a more generalized list of “don’ts” or suggestions for what not to do when writing that could benefit writers of every shape and form.

Here are my tips on what to avoid when it comes to the writing process:

Do not compare your work to what other authors have done or are doing 

You should absolutely be willing to learn whatever another writer or piece of writing has to teach you. However, believing that your writing will never match up to someone else’s words is a sure path to discouragement, doubt, and any other d-words you can conjure up with negative connotations. Because you’re right: it won’t match up and it shouldn’t. Your writing reflects your unique voice, you will do well to remember that and use it to your advantage.

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image via pixabay

Do not skip on making time to write

Maybe your creative juices aren’t overflowing on a certain day, or you can’t write a solid sentence without cringing at what you’ve made. Do’t make that an excuse to skip out on writing. Set a time, even if it’s just 30 minutes on your lunch break, for inputting words on your mobile note app or writing an idea down on a scrap piece of anything.

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image via pixabay

Do not edit as you write

Whatever is on your mind, get the whole thing out or as much as you can in one sitting. It’s not going to be pretty. But that’s why it’s called a draft. If you’re stuck, just work your way to the end. After that, you can go back and make the whole thing pretty as you please. It’s better to have written a work in progress, which you can return to with a fresh pair of editing eyes later, then to have never finished writing anything at all.

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image via pixabay

Do not let criticism control your writing

So someone read your piece, what you poured your blood, sweat and tears into making, and they just don’t get your metaphors, they don’t understand your message or your characters, and they’re opinionated about it. Hear what they have to say, consider what you would do differently (if anything) based on what’s been said, but don’t give up or assume any outside source knows what is best for your writing. Listen, learn, and move on. In fact, one of my favorite authors gives the best advice on how to deal with criticism on your writing:

“When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

– Neil Gaiman

Do not put anything ahead of your writing

If any writing words of wisdom should resonate with you, let it be this: Be selfish when it comes to your writing. Let your writing always come first. Yes, we all have responsibilities to meet day-to-day. We have jobs, relationships, households, and other aspects of daily living to upkeep. But if you’re serious about writing, you won’t let anything come between you and your craft. I mean it. Don’t.

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image via pixabay

Now that you’ve read this post, go finish that best seller you’ve been hoarding in your mind! You already have everything you need to do it.

And if you have any additional thoughts on what we writers should steer clear of doing when creating, for the sake of writing, please advise us in the comments below. I’m sure other authors are interested in what you have to say, myself included!


Dawn Gresko is an author, poet, and flash fictionist. When she isn’t writing she’s probably with her rat terrier, contorting into small spaces for reading, Netflixing obscure titles, getting lost in web feeds or contemplating too much. Follow her social media shenanigans on Instagram and Twitter.

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71 thoughts

    1. Thank you!

      At times I still catch myself wanting to edit as I go. But if you resist the urge just once, you know you can do it again and push through to the end or a good stopping point. And feel a lot more productive because of it!

      Like

  1. Great post especially like the part about criticism, so easy to get swept up in others opinions. The old adage of don’t get it right get it written. Most importantly silence the inner critic as well. Honing your craft takes time, but only you have your voice, your experiences and your take on life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      The old adage is so true and the inner critic is often the loudest. Once we learn to quiet down him/her, tuning out everyone else (who aren’t offering constructive feedback) is a piece of cake.

      Like

    1. Hi there, thanks for the comment and question!

      The writing process can differ so much from writer to writer. But as to what I do to prepare: before I sit down to write, I try to find a source of inspiration. A little bit of something real to fuel my story, otherwise I might get a few words down and feel like it isn’t going anywhere meaningful.

      Maybe it’s a word I hear from someone else’s song, or a thought inspired by what I see on a walk outside, or a sentence I overhear from all the small talk in a public place that leads me to my next idea. Sometimes we have to get out of our own heads for a little while, then we come back recharged and ready to let the words flow.

      I hope that’s helpful and I wish you the best on your next writing venture!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah, I’d say the academic reading and writing counts if you’re enjoying it and if you feel fulfilled by those. If not, definitely make time for reading and writing that allows you to get what you want out of it with no looming deadlines. 🙂

      That’s definitely something I should’ve made more time for during my college days!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Those seem to be two things especially hard for us writers to grapple with.

      Sometimes we give ourselves negative criticism too, and that can feed into the editing as you write issue. You keep tweaking a sentence because your inner voice says it doesn’t look or sound right. But if we can beat our own worst critic (inside our mind) then I do believe we can brush off any other negative criticism that might come our way. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re not alone, that’s for sure! I think perfectionism is strong in writers, but there’s no doubting it can stifle creativity. Sometimes we’ve got to get the idea out first in it’s raw form then we can sculpt it into something more well-rounded and precise!

      Thanks for the feedback, Eleanor!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to remind myself that the great authors I read didn’t get great overnight. Persistence really is key, it’s easy to get discouraged and want to give up. But I hope you keep writing, Lorraine!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post!
    Often I need to ignore what my head is telling me.
    I’m doing an MA creative writing course and had a piece workshopped by the tutor and rest of class. My head was telling me that my piece was the worst I’d ever done etc etc.
    For the whole week the old self doubt was pinning me down into the pity potty.
    When the lesson came around, i got really good feedback. If I’d not shared that piece I might’ve trashed it.

    I once wrote a 60k novel and trashed it (and found it on a memory stick recently …. 17 years later)

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Being able to self-edit is an important quality, but what helps even more is to have someone else look at our writing whenever possible. Not just to catch mistakes, but to quiet that voice in our heads saying it “isn’t good enough” or “this is the worst.” We are our own worst critics.

      It’s what I’ve come to love about this platform, WordPress. The response from peers is so overwhelmingly positive and sincere. It makes you want to keep sharing, just like hearing the feedback from your class gave you the push you needed!

      Maybe it’ll inspire you to revisit that novel!

      Thanks for stopping by for the read and sharing with us!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Do not forget to read – anything and everything – from bloggers like Milly and you to poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath to playwrights like Shakespeare and Nora Ephron to epic storytellers like Homer, Dante and Follett, to novelists like Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre, Earnest Hemingway and Elizabeth Strout to bell hooks, Edward P. Jones to the Bible, Koran, Torah and beyond, to Confucius, Plato, and Aristotle, Shell Silverstein to Billy Collins, and all the wonderful myths and fairytales that have come before us. Too many to list, and when we read we visit these writers intimately. Don’t compare, just be aware and then make your own way as writer. As Foster reiterates, there is only one story, the one about what it means to be human.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Absolutely! Reading is essential to the writing process.

      I believe it isn’t until we’ve read some truly wonderful writing that we really know we want to be authors.

      Just like the works you so kindly listed above.

      Thank you so much for the thoughtful reply, Bonnie!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think a little comparison can actually be a good thing, as long as you’re not hard on yourself about it. Comparing yourself (in a way that isn’t overly critical) to writers you respect is a good way of getting better. Still, I sometimes find myself getting peeved when I’m reading a good book because the writer is so much better than me, I’m reading “The Woman Who Walked into Doors” now, holy crap, Roddy Doyle can write! 😀 But I’m young yet, and I’ve developed a lot as a writer just in the last couple of years, so I try not to beat myself up about it.

      Like

  4. Love these inspiring writing tips, especially the part about not letting anything coming between us and our writing, even if it is not our full time job. I’ll have to remember that. Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It can be so easy to get swept up in the current of life and get a little lost and distanced from writing. I think from time to time we all could use a little reminding not to let that distance grow. Because your writing is important!

      Thank you for the sweet comment, Sophie 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Making time to write is a consistent struggle for me. I’ve set a goal for myself to post at least twice a week, on set days, so that I know for a fact that I will have to sit down at some point to do it. This is all really great and practical advice. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Same here, Courtnie. But I’ve made it a habit of writing every night before bed, and sometimes it’s just brainstorming for the next day. That way it’s become part of my daily routine (even if I have to cut some Netflix time).

      I also find I’m more productive when I set deadlines for myself, like you mentioned. I used to hate due dates but they do make me hunker down and get writing!

      Thanks for taking a moment to read the post and share your thoughts!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I might try spending at least 10-15 minutes a night just writing whatever comes to mind. Hopefully that becomes a habit for me as well!

        Like

  6. Definitely, agree with the idea that writing comes first. Sometimes when it comes to family I struggle with that decision, and they don’t always understand that writing is important to me, but I have gotten better at it. Though sometimes I do forfeit time I could have spent writing to hang with them. However, I still manage to write somehow even if it’s only just a little bit.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. At times I still struggle with that decision but it sounds like you are making the best of the situation. I used to have a hard time saying I was a writer, even to family members, I didn’t feel credible if I didn’t have much published.

      But if you write, you are a writer. It’s as simple as that. Even if your family doesn’t understand, know you always have a community of writers who do ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree that sometimes the muse hits at just the right time and something great emerges like it did for you!

      But, for me, sometimes the muse is late or never shows. So I have to make myself write anyway. I never regret it though, even if I don’t produce something great I still feel good for having produced something rather than nothing at all. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  7. • Don’t ever think your craft is complete.
    • Don’t ever believe that critics have power.
    • Don’t ever surrender to a failed idea. Timing is everything. It’s just not that idea’s time yet.
    • Don’t ever listen to anyone but yourself when it comes to advice about writing.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Wow. This came at such an interesting time. I’m in the process of transiting into a new career – a career of selling insurance. (Right, right, I know. It’s probably a horrible choice.) I got home today and tried to write, and I just couldn’t. I was too stressed out over everything I’m supposed to be learning that I couldn’t produce anything worth anything. I got a little done, but nothing special. It’s just… a weird coincidence. My major worry is that this job will suck all my time and energy and I won’t have any left to spend on my writing.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I can relate to that feeling of worry, I experienced it at my old job. My position required a lot of writing and producing new ideas, so when I got home I felt too drained to work on my own writing projects.

      Take the little victories where and when you can: you still sat down and wrote today. It may seem like nothing now but who’s to say with a little editing it won’t turn into something special?

      I hope you find some solidarity with your fellow writers here, who I imagine are going through or have gone through something similar. And I hope this post came at just the right time to encourage you to keep keeping on the writing grind!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Rohtua!

      I’m very fond of Gaiman and his work too. Whenever I think of writers giving advice on writing, I always think of his words of wisdom. He has so many powerful words on the topic, of course I had to include some here.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. An excellent guest blog! Thanks for posting these observations. You (catswrite) have done exceptionally well over the past year, and it is due as much to continual self-improvement, creative expression and learning from others!

    Liked by 5 people

  10. Another thought!
    (I copied that line from the above comment to be ironic.)
    Believe in yourself. If writing makes you happy, do it. If writing makes you fulfilled, do it. If writing makes your life meaningful, do it. Concern yourself with the business of publishing at a later date.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Hey George, thanks for sharing another great addition to the conversation.

      Believing in yourself and your writing is a must, I agree. Writing doesn’t always yield immediate results, especially in the realm of publishing, so it can be disheartening to say the least.

      But you’ve gotta pursue what makes you happy and gives you purpose and drive. If you’re motivated to write and believe in yourself, that will definitely help you get through the tough roads ahead, like the publishing route. Nothing worth having is ever easy!

      Liked by 4 people

  11. Another thought!
    Write exactly what you want, and how you want. Your writing should be representative of you. To copy another writer’s style, or changing your work based on another’s critique, is simply filtering down your own creativity. Isn’t it your imagination and creativity which you are trying to express?

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Agreed, writing “how you want” is a very important point. I still remember my English professor telling us: learn all the rules of writing to know when you’re breaking them and to know when it’s on purpose.

      I think of JD Salinger’s run-ons and non-standard grammar in The Catcher in the Rye. But he wrote it how he wanted and how he meant it to be read!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us! I think I’d bullet it as: “Don’t give up your writing style to fit the norm.” 😊

      Liked by 3 people

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