5 Ways I’m Learning to Write Smart and Not Scared
It is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.
And when you work on your writing remember these things. Work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally thumb your nose at the know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.
— Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write
I love the writing life, but I don’t find it easy. Oftentimes the thing that challenges my day-to-day work isn’t something external. It’s me.
I want to approach my writing with intelligence and love, to work freely and rollickingly (I can’t think of a more wonderful description of the creative experience). In other words, I want to be a whole lot more like Brenda Ueland.
This post is both invitation and game plan for all creatives who wish to learn how to work with a new mindset, one I call writing smart and not scared. Interested in joining in? Here are five steps to guide us along the way:
- I want to be aware of the work beneath the work. Am I involved in frantic wheel spinning because I feel I need to produce? What’s my motivation behind the compulsion to be busy? More often than not, I’m learning it’s fear — fear of losing my touch, being forgotten, or missing a sale. This doesn’t serve my work or benefit me. To paraphrase author Elizabeth Gilbert, fear can come along for the ride, but it can’t drive the car.
- I want to be comfortable with what’s best for each project. Sometimes the writing life means there is nothing new to show, but important work has been done nonetheless. (I’m thinking of all the behind-the-scenes work that doesn’t add to a manuscript’s word count, effort that is never efficient and sometimes feels like “wasted” time.) I want to learn to remain open to each book’s particular needs.
- I want my work, even when it’s hard, to bring about joy and satisfaction. Sorry, Brenda. I believe making art is sometimes a struggle. But I still want the rollicking! There is so much to love in the writing life: The freedom to experiment and play. The chance to write pieces that might interest no one else but will satisfy me. Even the hard work, such as shaping a story into the best version of itself, can feel like talking to a friend who loves me if I view it through the lens of joy and satisfaction.
- I will not be afraid of anxious vanity. I’m one to fret about life in general. Unfortunately, this seeps into my writing life, too. I’m an all-out pro when it comes to worrying that I can’t write another book. I find it hard to give my work the space to grow from its fragile beginnings to something that will one day be able to stand on its own. It’s way too easy to hold fledgling drafts to the same standard as finished books. That isn’t fair to the new work or to my creative process. To the best of my ability, I choose to set this comparison aside.
- I will learn to mentally thumb my nose at the jeerers, critics, and doubters. You want to know something ridiculous? It’s not just “jeerers, critics, and doubters” who can knock me off center. Positive reviews can do it, too. Sometimes when a book is released into the world, any sort of feedback can leave an author feeling vulnerable. I’m choosing to set all those voices aside. My hope is to keep my focus in the place that most benefits my creativity. If I’m proud of a book and my editor is, too, this is more than enough.
Let’s reclaim the writing life for what it’s meant to be: Hard work that nevertheless brings joy and satisfaction, as familiar and welcoming as the friend we hold most dear.
Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable, Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices, Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. Her newest book, Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, releases next week.