Should and Shouldn’t for Writers

When I was growing up, my dad had this cool little poem he used to say to us all the time, and I’m not even sure where he got it:

There are things you should do that you do want to do,
And things you should to that you don’t want to do. 
There are also things you shouldn’t do that you do want to do,
As well as things you shouldn’t do that you don’t want to do.

The thing to do is not to do the things you shouldn’t do,
But rather,
Do the things you should do, 
Whether you want to do them or not.

Now obviously that applies pretty straightforwardly to life, but I’m going to take it a bit more specifically today and talk about it in relation to writing. Because here’s the thing: I finished Draft Zero this week, and I haven’t touched it since, and for me, knowing my processes, that’s a thing I shouldn’t do. So, as a writer, what are some of the things you should do?

1. Just Keep Writing

Sometimes writing can be tough, and other times it’s easy. The trick to being a full-time writer is writing even when you don’t want to write. Some writers are binge-writers, and others do better with consistency. Like anything, you have to know what works best for you. But there will come a time, especially when you have contracts and deadlines, when you just don’t want to write. But you must, because the show must go on–the writing must get done. Our new contributor, Ilima Todd, just wrote this FANTASTIC post on that exact topic, so I won’t go into that too much. Just know that this is one of those things you don’t ever expect to happen to you, but it comes to us all.

2. Find Your Best Critique Partners

When I first started writing, I had no idea what a good Critique Partner was or how to get one. Well I’m going to pass on to you you some of the best advice I ever got on how to find them. (This comes from the mind and blog of LeighAnn Kopans.)

a. Watch pitch/query contests and twitter for writers you get along with talking about their books.
b. If their book sounds like something you’d love to read, OFFER TO READ IT.
c. If you’re at a similar stage in your careers, this will usually result in a return offer.
d. If you both benefit from each others’ critiques, you continue exchanging, and you are officially CPs.

Let me sum up: do not go onto social media and say “PLEASE READ MY BOOK,” because you’re basically begging strangers to help you remodel the bathroom you just tried and failed to build. But if you first offer to read for others, they will usually offer to read for you. And having critique partners who know your writing and love your work is probably the best thing any author could ever ask for.

3. Be Honest With Your IRL People

The other day, we visited my husband’s grandmother for her birthday. She also had some friends over, so she introduced me as a writer. The friend began to ask questions. The best one was, “how long does it take to write a book?” I tried to answer concisely, and she was legitimately shocked when I told her that from initial idea to first draft could be anywhere from a few weeks to a year, and another two to five years on top of that until publication (again, depending on the author and publisher).

Your significant other or extended family will never know what you’re going through unless you tell them. They may not be able to help you fix plot problems or grammar, but they can be a listening ear, they can help you remember to sleep, or eat, or shower. They love you, and they can help you do this if you let them.

4. Seriously. Just Write.

Whether it’s five words a day or five hundred, or zero one day and more the next, you are a writer if you want to write. There are literally no other requirements. You don’t have to want an agent or to be published, you don’t have to write every day, or every week. You don’t even have to want to write a novel.

But over time, you’ll learn more about yourself and what you want from this art you’re doing. And when you learn that, you’ll set goals for yourself. With goals comes progress, and with progress you’ll plan the way to accomplish your dreams. Then, and only then, will you know exactly the things you should and shouldn’t do.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a draft to revise.


Darci Cole is an author of YA and MG scifi/fantasy, usually with a romantic twist. She spends her spare time making magic wands, reading good books, eating good food, and raising two sons alongside her incredible husband.

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