Mary Jaksch published a recent article on copyblogger.com (a blog about—you guessed it—copywriting) that outlined 73 ways to become a better writer. It’s probably one of my favorite blog posts of all time—and not because I necessarily agree with everything included.
I found it reassuring that I engage regularly in around 40 percent of the activities or practices on the list. There’s another 30 percent that I want to follow/practice and at least 10-15 percent that I SHOULD follow but probably won’t (that’s a discussion for another day). I realize these percentages don’t equal 100—there’s a reason I’m a writer and not in a profession that involves absolutes. Some of the remaining tips are irrelevant; others may work for some writers, but not for me.
My favorite pieces of advice from the list include:
# 3. Accept all forms of criticism and learn to grow from it.
#8. Live with passion.
# 9. Be open, curious, present, and engaged.
#13. Write in different genres: blog posts, poems, short stories, essays.
#34. Be inspired by other art forms – music, dance, sculpture, painting.
#35. Read your old stuff and acknowledge how far you’ve come – and how far you have to go.
#72. Take risks – don’t be afraid to shock. You are not who you think you are.
Most of the statements above offer abstract advice as opposed to instruction on mechanics. The technical aspects are writing are equally important, but without passion, art, risk and general openness to new experiences, all of the mechanics in the world can’t bring a piece of work to life.
When I read the article for the second time, I was taken in by one of the tips that I had previously dismissed: #39. Tell everyone: “I’m a writer.”
I knew I wanted to be a writer since around eighth grade. I dabbled in poetry and prose, and often wrote essays as opposed to entries in a journal. I loved metaphors, and everything I wrote symbolically meant something else. I brooded, agonized, and dressed only in black. I was the epitome of teenage angst and a tortured artist rolled into one.
Reality hit around age 17, at which point I woke up and realized that one can not live on poetry and sulking alone. I took an interest in journalism and fell in love with the art of writing the op-ed. One day a non-writer friend of mine—after reading what I know was a sappy, garbled essay that I wrote on a bus—gave me the same piece of advice as #39 on Jaksch’s list: “Tell everyone: ‘I’m a writer.’”
She probably has no idea that she changed my life. I remember saying to her, “but I’m NOT a writer.” And she said, something to the effect of, “why not? You are if you say you are.” And I remember sitting in my room working on some piece of writing in the following days, saying to myself, “I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer.”
Today, when people ask me what I “do,” I tell them I’m a writer—although, for me, it’s more of WHO I am rather than what I DO. Maybe #39 on the list is the most important after all.