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Things I Wish I’d Been Told Before Becoming a Writer

For most of my life, I had never envisioned becoming a writer. Perhaps it was because as an avid reader, I often consumed stories as they were: just stories. I did not spend much time thinking about the writers, and all the dedication, training, and sometimes years of work needed to create a story even worth consuming.

I was always an artistic person, with a vague goal of what I wanted to do. I truly became invested and passionate about writing when I began high school. A bit of a niche subject, where it was hard to find fellow writers who were passionate about writing just for fun (rather than for strained academic purposes), I quickly fell in love with it, and now plan on pursuing it in the future.

My experiences with writing, however, have not always been positive. Outside of grammar structures and stringing together appealing sentences, this craft alone has taught me hard lessons about, for example, character and attitude.

Writing can be relentless and gritty. It’s a tough profession and hobby. And there are some things I wish I had known before deciding to become a writer. 

1. The most important audience you ultimately serve is yourself.

In my own experiences, I very easily reduce my passion for writing into a mere performance. I always want to please the audience, albeit an invisible one, that reads my work. After so long of this attitude, it can become a mind-numbing practice. 

When it becomes too much, I try to remind myself of why I got into writing in the first place. It’s because I just loved it. The power of turning difficult topics and lessons into something moving and beautiful, the power of forging entire worlds out of words – those are the reasons why I write. 

While it feels good to receive validation from others, and while writers certainly deserve these accolades, don’t change your writing for anyone else but yourself.

2. You will face rejection – a lot of it.

Rejection is terrifying. Maybe it’s because I put so much of myself into my writing that it becomes, in a way, another extension of me. If that’s rejected, I feel I’ve been rejected as a person as well. 

Though it’s much easier said than done, don’t take the rejection personally. Multiple factors go into writing and publication all the time– the time, situation, writing style, and not to mention the goals of that specific outlet. Additionally, writing will inevitably involve multiple rounds of editing and drafts. Sometimes, it will have to go through multiple publications as well, before it finds the right time and place.

This constant push-and-pull of trying to find the right publisher who will take a chance on you is often frustrating, but it can also make writing even more rewarding. It takes hard work and grit, but after having gone through these cycles of rejections and revisions, I’ve come out more resilient. 

(And don’t worry if your writing doesn’t make it to your dream publication yet. There is time, and a world’s worth of discussions, to make it there).

3. Sometimes it will take a long time to see a project through. But it’s worth it.

Writing is versatile and unpredictable, which is what makes it so appealing and also so intimidating. Certain pieces will take much longer than others. One of my most ambitious and long-term writing projects was a piece tackling the permanency of unbelonging in the Chinese-American identity. It had started from a small seed of an idea: my strange disconnect from Chinese New Year. 

It took me two years of rewriting, revisiting, and revising to come to a final product that could be published. In hindsight, that was probably expected: to confront such a historical and vast topic in a piece that was also edible for readers was extremely difficult. For those two years, I had moments where I just wanted the process to be over. I desperately wanted my work and voice to be published somewhere. It was frustrating to spend so long on a piece and not be able to bring it to full fruition just yet, but ultimately, my desire to produce something I was proud of overwhelmed my need to finish it quickly.

Patience and resilience can seem unfriendly in the face of passion. As a writer, however, I’ve developed those incredibly important skills just by the nature of the art. Stick with your pieces, and know that you will be done when you are done.

4. Be okay with some mediocrity.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made, and one that I still struggle with now, is expecting perfection every single time I write. However, like any other hobby, art, or even a sport, the most reliable way to improve is through practice and repetition. So be okay with writing mediocre or “bad” first drafts, and be okay with the fact that not all of your work will be the best. 

I am the kind of person that if I cannot get something right on the first try, I often give up. Unlearning that habit is an ongoing process, but it involves letting my writing breathe where it needs to, and not trying to force the highest standards onto every piece I create. 

The nature of any kind of creative expression, really, is molding and reshaping. Even the greatest and most famous artists and writers cannot put out perfection on their first try. And no one can be a great artist for every second of their day. It’s what makes us human. 

5. Do not base your worth on others’ comments.

Another thing I struggle immensely with is my reliance on the feedback of others for my own validation. If a piece I publish gets little engagement, I sometimes let it bring down my sense of self-worth. This, unfortunately, has quenched some of my passion for writing. The idea that people might not read something I have spent so much time on makes writing less appealing altogether.

It’s important to appreciate content creators and to let them know about it, especially since creating can be such a taxing process. However, more than that, I do not want to let my drive for writing become destroyed just because of a lack of external validation. 

Unconditional love for writing in this manner is still something I’m trying to make into a habit. But I’ll take it one piece (not comment) at a time.

6. Even if you may feel like quitting sometimes, don’t.

The work is worth it, in the simplest terms. You will feel like quitting sometimes, whether it’s because the writer’s block is just too big and strong, or because you don’t know how to voice an idea properly enough, or because of something else. When I feel this way, I remind myself that ultimately, if even just one person who reads my work is impacted in some way, then I am glad I did not give up earlier.

I’m someone who cannot work in halves. I put my all into something or nothing at all. Writing is one of those things I’ve done that has truly challenged that part of me, that has forced me to see nuances in an otherwise black-and-white attitude. 

Poet Robert Hass once said, “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.” 

Stories matter and stories can change lives. Keep writing, despite the lows and the challenges. They are merely occupational hazards.

Photo: Suzy Hazelwood via Pexels

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