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14 Things To Do To Be A Great Writer

14 Things To Do To Be A Great Writer

I am an author, a playwright, and a freelance editor. I get asked all of the time what advice I have for aspiring writers. I have met a lot of talented and amazing authors of plays, novels, poems, and screenplays, and they all share the same habits Here a few things you can do as well.

1. Write every day

The idea of sitting down every single day and writing profound literary prose can be overwhelming. In reality, it’s much simpler to write every day. One of my writer friends works as an administrative assistant, and every day she writes for 15 minutes before work and for 15 minutes during her lunch break. You can talk about all of the great ideas you have for novels or screenplays all day long, but the number one way to be a writer is to sit down and actually write.

2. Keep a journal

Even for non-writers, a journal is a great tool for self-development. It gives you a place to document your life, process your emotions, and work out important decisions. In addition, writers who journal always have a place to record any ideas that may come to them and a place to practice writing.

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3. Look for lessons in everything

When something “bad” happens in your life, this gives you an excellent opportunity. Ask yourself how you can re-frame this seemingly negative event and use it for a basis for your writing. We all experience tragedies, but a skilled writer will be able to find a use for some of them.

4. Silence your inner critic

The critical voices in your head like to run wild when you sit down to write. “This is stupid.” “No one’s going to read this.” “Where is this going?” Don’t listen to them. They will stifle your creativity if you let them, so learn how to shut them up. Don’t judge yourself or limit your creativity.

5. Read as much as you can

Read the kind of books you want to write. Read books that excite you and make you feel passionate about storytelling. Learn from different writers by reading their work. Even if you read a book that you find to be poorly written, ask yourself what you can learn from it.

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6. Embrace rejection and criticism

Understand that all art is subjective. Getting rejected means you are putting yourself out there, which is great. I see so many writers who are incredibly talented but they never do anything with their work because they are afraid of rejection. Make a collage out of your rejection letters, and be proud of them. Every rejection you get represents a time when you tried, which is much more than a lot of people can say.

7. Try new things

Learn new skills, participate in new hobbies, go new places. See the world in as many different ways as possible. New activities, new locations, new people, new cultures. All of these things will inspire you to think of new stories.

8. Pay attention to the writing in your life

TV shows, films, even e-mails and social media updates can teach you something about writing. What did you think worked from a storytelling standpoint about that episode of Game of Thrones? Have you noticed a friend who uses poor grammar in his tweets? Are there ways your boss could have structured that e-mail better?

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9. Always find ways to grow

Don’t ever think you have reached perfection as a writer. No matter what level you are at, there’s always something to learn. You should always strive to improve.

10. Listen to other writers

In line with #9, some of the ways you can strive to improve and to always be learning are to take writing classes, read writing craft books, read writing blogs, follow writers on social media, etc. Learn from the wisdom of the writers you admire.

11. Challenge yourself

Nothing is too ambitious. Don’t tell yourself you can’t write a science fiction novel or that you can’t write a novel in a month. Allow yourself to go for it.

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12. Experience art

Go to museums, go to concerts, go see films, go see live theatre… Always look for new ways to be inspired and support other artists. You never know when a painting, a photograph, a song, or a film will inspire your next story.

13. Follow your obsessions

Write what you want to write, not what your parents or your friends or anyone else want you to write. Don’t write what you think will sell or what you think publishers want to see. Write about the things that make you excited. Write about the things you are passionate about. Write the stories you would love to read.

14. Value your own voice

Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Don’t try to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Everyone has their own unique experiences, their own perspective. No two writers will have the same stories inside of them or tell stories in the same way. Find the stories only you can tell, and write them down. And when you’ve done that, keep writing.

Featured photo credit: Girl Writing in Her Moleskine Diary/Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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