Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Five Biggest Lessons I've Learned About Writing

I've officially been calling myself a writer for seven years, and it has been an excruciating and exhilarating ride.

Here are the biggest lessons I've learned about the craft of writing...so far...

#1 - Writers Write Every Day

When I first started, I'd meet with my then-writing partner once or twice a week, but outside of that, I didn't write at all. I remember her calling me on it one day. Let me tell ya - it did not feel good.

But I knew she was right, so I took it to heart. I ramped it up, inspired by concepts like Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours theory from Outliersand Jerry Seinfeld's "Chain" worksheet.

Now, I definitely write every day. It's why I've been able to complete ten TV scripts, countless pitches, short stories, and copywriting assignments, and tens of thousands of words on two novels in the last seven years. All while keeping this blog pseudo-updated, of course.

Even if I'm just journaling my anxieties or beating out ideas on my Notes app while getting my oil changed, I write every day.

It takes discipline and commitment, but you must do it if you want to call yourself a writer. The more you write, the more you learn, and the faster you'll get better at it.

#2 - There's No Such Thing as Writer's Block

There is such a thing as procrastination and laziness. I definitely have days when I'm not feeling creative or just not in the mood, but I've learned to put my ass in the chair and force myself to get in the zone.

I never let myself off the hook by saying I have "writer's block."

And if I get stuck on a character beat or a scene that's not working, I open my brainstorming notebook and start writing through it. It usually looks something like this --
"Ugh, this character doesn't work! He's too damn passive. He should be driving the action more. Maybe he can be up for a promotion? No, that's dumb. Why would he care? Oh! What if his father is the one who was killed at the beginning?! That will drive him to push her to catch the killer! Done!"
Works every time and never takes me that long. Try it for yourself!

#3 - Your Inner Critic is a Persistent Jerk

He's like the guy who invites himself to a party and then drinks all the good wine. You want him to leave, but he just won't go.

Here's the unfortunate truth - your inner critic never goes away. That nagging self-talk comes with the territory. Writers just learn not to listen to it. (And to lock up the expensive wine.)

My inner critic likes to show up after I've had a light day of writing. It crinkles its nose and shouts, "This crap is all you came up with yesterday?! And you call yourself a writer?! You'll never be Kazuo Ishiguro!!"

My inner critic is very specific.

I've learned not to let him get me down. If he's being especially annoying, I'll open a notebook and let him rant until there are no words of doubt left to spew. Then, I start writing.

#4 - Don't Be Precious About Anything

There's this expression that writers use - "You gotta kill your babies." Not the prettiest of statements, but it speaks to the idea that writers need to stay loose and flexible with ideas.

The creative process is all about flow and allowance. If you hang on tightly to that plot point or character trait and try writing around the rest of your story to make that favorite idea work, you're not in the flow. You're creating dams that will make your piece disjointed and inauthentic.

I've cut many wonderful moments, plot twists, and lines of dialogue out of scripts because they just weren't working. Once I removed the main character who inspired the whole pilot idea in the first place! But it was okay - an amalgam of him returned in a short story a few years later.

So be prepared to let your creative "babies" go. If they're really that genius, they'll come back to you later when the time is right.

#5 - Writers Are The Most Fantastic People Ever

We're survivors together, bonded by experience. We all know it's a bitch to sit down and face a blank page. We have empathy for writer problems and are the first to tell you that you can finish that script/novel/play.

Being in a community of writers has been an incredible blessing in my life. My writer friends share advice about the biz and the craft, listen when I need to vent, offer sounding boards for my ideas, and help me succeed. And I'm always happy to do the same for them.

Because we know jealousy and competition are pointless wastes of our creative time and energy.

Ask ten writers to write a story about a cat and mouse and you'll get ten beautifully different pieces. Which piece is the best is a subjective question with an answer that doesn't really matter. All we care about is writing a story that's better than the last one we wrote.

So don't hesitate to expand your circle of writer friends. We're good people.

(Oh, and writers are also the best drinking companions. There's nothing better than happy hour drinks after seeing the concept of your last pilot get sold to HBO!)

What's the biggest lesson you've learned about writing? Share it in the comments below!


  1. I'm glad I found this today. I worked in corporate communications for the past 9 years before getting laid off in June after maternity leave. I have been reflecting on what to do next - in between breastfeeding and diaper changes- and writing is something I'm considering.

    I have just joined a local writers meetup, and while I have no idea where this may go, or if writing even "calls" to me, I'm looking forward to meeting some writers and seeing what happens!

    (I find journaling to be super helpful for getting into action too! And, I have a thing for pretty noteboks... :) )

    1. Thanks for your comment, Georgiana! It's all about pretty notebooks... ;)

      If you're interested in exploring freelance writing, I highly recommend this email list called upod - it's a great resource for meeting other writers and getting answers to burning questions. I've been lurking for a few months and it's chock full of info. Check it out at http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/upod/info

  2. Love this post, Teresa! It applies to a lot of life lessons as well...

  3. OK I'm an Asian American actor and I'm freaking obsessed with you! I've only been auditioning in film and television for about a year now (I'm a teenager) but I think you're awesome because I know now how hard it is for us to book roles! I love Grey's Anatomy! :)

    1. Go you, Alan Chow! :) Yes, it is hard - I'm so grateful for each and every role I've ever booked. Keep on reading & email me if you have questions you want answered on the blog!