If there’s only one writing listicle you ever read…

it should be Sarah Sentilles’ 11 Things I Wish I’d Known About Writing 11 Years Ago

I seem to be caught in a bit of a rupture and repair cycle with my writing at the moment. Anyone who read ‘finding my way back to the page’ will already know that my relationship with writing has been on shaky ground. After writing that, I thought I’d found my way back to the page but I’ve since made my way off it again. I’m not writing and I’m not reading.

There’s a difficult pull as a writer where you love the writing but also want readers and if that isn’t happening, the desire to be read, published, short-listed, commended, acknowledged, anything, seems to overtake and obscure the writing itself. The fact that it’s not happening can then bleed into everything – especially the writing and things seem to get stuck from there. So, I’m impatient for something to happen but frozen and not writing a word.

Maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, I’m always on the lookout for the answer, a solution to get things moving again and keep the momentum going. The simple suggestion is to just get on with it. Put words down on the page. But that’s ignoring all the other dynamics at play. And so, on an unsuspecting Thursday, trawling through Twitter, I came upon Sarah Sentilles’ listicle 11 Things I Wish I’d Known About Writing 11 Years Ago.

Reading it was like being thrown a life line.

I think we’ve all read plenty of Top 5 writer’s tips.  A lot are just filling a content quota and saying the same old things. This one is different. She’s wise and generous and says things I haven’t read before which are so refreshing and exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for!!

I suggest reading all 11. And then printing them out. And then re-reading them. And then keeping them close, because you’ll want to go read them again, for comfort and reassurance and because good advice can change everything.

There’s no hot air in this list. All 11 have something to say but I’ll share the three that really resonated and have shaken things up for me.

Number 1. SET AN INTENTION

Sarah Sentilles credits her friend and teacher Juliana Jones-Munson for this one and says you should set an intention for every writing project.

The intention should be personal and healing, not external or dependent on other people. Your intention should remind you why you write, and it should be powerful enough that everything else – what critics say, whether you sell it – pales in comparison.”

Boom! Nothing will ever be the same again. I think this is my way back, to have intention keep me company during the writing rather than the idea of an outcome. Her intention when she was writing Stranger Care was for it to be a love letter to her foster daughter. Now that’s worth writing through the doubts.

Number 7.  YOUR STORIES CHOSE YOU

This is a nice way to excuse your doubts and tell them they aren’t welcome.

She says, “When we worry our story isn’t good enough, it’s disrespectful to the idea. Thinking we’re not good enough to write is also impolite. Our ideas come from deep within, and they come from the stars. Treat these visitors with love.”

This is a riff on some of Elizabeth Gilbert’s ideas from Big Magic. Funny that if we think it’s us, we’ll drag out the inner-critic but if we hold it as something separate, we behave better.

She also goes on to say that ideas can take time. Her book Draw Your Weapons took 10 years to write and by the end of it she was impatient and wanted to be done with it.

Her friend, the writer Alice Dark said, “Sometimes we have to become the person our books need us to be before we can finish it.”

I love it and I find it so heartening when she says, “That idea knows you have everything you need to become the writer it needs.”

Number 11. YOUR PROJECT IS WELL SUPPORTED

Again, it’s all about the internal stuff for me. The monkey-chatter is what gets me off the rails and the only way the quiet it is to have something better and louder on a loop.

She says, “We don’t write alone. We write for the generations who came before us and we write for the generations who follow.”

If that seems a little lofty and presumptuous then bring it in closer. Write for your grandmother who couldn’t or the kids you know who one day will.

PS Number 5 YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE WRITING UNTIL YOU HAVE A DRAFT needs a special mention for the pantsers. It’s all good. Just get it down and worry about what it is or will be later.

It’s a big claim but I’m going to say it, this listicle by Sarah Sentilles has the best writing suggestions I’ve ever read. I’m interested if it resonated for you or if you have another list you turn to when things get wobbly? If so, please share!

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