10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Writer
To the Lost Writer:
I like to think that I chose writing. Maybe it’s a mix of it choosing me, like the moment when Harry finds his wand. A whoosh of wind and a warm glow when I wrote my first short story as a ten-year-old. I started with books first, and then it slowly developed into enjoying writing essays and short stories in fifth grade. But I didn’t always identify as a writer. I still identify as an artist because I don’t only write, but it’s taken a long time for me to identify as both.
I don’t think I give myself enough credit. I can’t count how many essays, poems, short stories, and whatever else I have written in my lifetime. I can’t keep them all and we’ve moved so much, my parents have lost things in the shuffle of unmarked boxes. I can only keep the memories of my journey. It seems trite to put this in list form (as I know many spoken word pieces that make fun of the list format).
I spent too long making this list because I want it to be right for myself, and hopefully, for other people. I want to do my years of experience justice because they’re all I have.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that I chose writing. I wish I could tell college freshman me that fighting against being an English major wasn’t going to work out in my favor and that I should switch from studying Communication. I spent years trying to convince myself that writing was just a hobby and it could never help with an income or that I could never be good enough to take it seriously.
I feel limited. I feel that even after studying English, I don’t have a grasp on my words and thoughts. I don’t feel like a writer. I feel lost, afraid, and out of touch with my skills.
This list is for myself, and for any writer who needs to remember that this all takes practice. It takes time, organization, and a whole lot of effort. These are lessons I have learned and ones I hope to keep learning and adding to. These are—
10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Writer
1. The first draft is the scariest.
It’s going to be a mess. I know you want to fight it. I want to fight it every time. In college, I wouldn’t write the first draft until after outlining it and writing it in my head for a week. I would wait until the day or two before it was due. A horrible habit of perfectionism and anxiety, but I’ve given myself more kindness toward it. I don’t have to be perfect. My draft does not need to be perfect on the first try. I don’t have to prove I can turn into a diamond under pressure. I can be lab-made and more sustainable. I got better about sending in drafts earlier to my editors and friends. Even this month, I gave myself a much-needed break from Just Writers’ Things to take care of myself. It’s okay that this draft sat in my notes app until the next time I went on a plane.
I struggled with this draft so much. Part of me didn’t even want to write it because it means I have to be confident in what I’ve learned as a writer. And to do that, I first have to acknowledge myself as a writer.
But I outlined. I gave myself the time I needed. I stepped away and came back when I felt like I was going through too many mental hurdles. The saving grace is that this draft will go through edits and it will get better. Others won’t feel the anxiety I feel when reading this piece. They won’t have the reservations about whether or not it’s good enough for Mei-Mei to write.
That’s all in my head.
And remember, it’s in yours too. You experience what you experience and that is absolutely okay. It feels like the first draft is the scariest because it’s our first leap. But let it be a leap of faith into some damn good editors.
2. It’s not writer’s block. Sometimes you need a break.
When I graduated in 2019, I beat myself up about how I couldn’t get a poem out. I wrote a song I really loved. I sang at open mics. I spent time getting to know Vegas and working to save money. I did so many great things as an artist and as a new adult, but I felt like a failure of a poet.
For a decade, my poetry flowed out like a waterfall and I was heartbroken when it fell into a drought.
Looking back on it now, I was so hard on myself. It wasn’t until ten months after graduation that I felt like I wrote a solid piece. Twelve until I performed my spoken word again. And I remember feeling so tired. Of course I was tired. I spent four years doing everything related to writing. My major. My club. My job. I let it flow out of me until I had nothing left.
If my poetry was a waterfall, my passion was a forest fire. I get to grow from the ashes and see what I do next. I started the LYF blog as the Head Editor/Editor-in-Chief, but now I’m writing again because I’m ready. If you feel tired, maybe it’s time to give yourself a break. Pick something else. Changing things up can help you discover more about yourself. Rihanna stopped making music, much to everyone’s dismay, but in the last five years, she’s made the Fenty Beauty empire and Savage X Fenty lingerie line. Taking a break can help you fuel passions you’ve left on the backburner, and no, you’re no less of an artist or writer if you take a break, just like Rihanna is no less of a singer. Let’s all be like Rihanna.
3. Writing is not as solitary as movies make it out to be.
I think back to one of the Shakespeare courses taught by Professor Rose at UCSB, and he had a Powerpoint that lives in my head rent-free. He said when people think of Shakespeare, they think of the movie Shakespeare in Love and how he wrote Twelfth Night in one go at the ending all alone in his room. And he said writing absolutely didn’t look like that then and it doesn’t look like that now.
Shakespeare was a playwright. He was an actor. According to Professor Rose, Shakespeare wrote amongst friends and confidantes, asking for their advice and input.
We write alone, but writing is not a lonely venture.
The more serious I got into writing, the more I realized that I needed others’ support. I write better when my friends are in the room, snippets of their conversations inspiring lines. My best friends act as my editors and my audience. Writing on the blog has given me an avenue to hold myself accountable to deadlines and understand that my audience has needs. I also had the privilege of meeting so many talented writers who inspire me and give me the best advice. Poets’ Club sparked one of the most prolific periods of my life in terms of writing. Every Thursday we would sit in a circle, sit in silence for 20-30 minutes and write to a prompt we just heard. Well, most of us—there was a point where I was making the prompts. But even when I knew what it was beforehand, I wouldn’t know what to write until then.
We’d also get immediate feedback on what we had just word-vomited onto the page if we decided to share. People suggest different phrases or a more dynamic cadence. There was a time that I suggested the phrase “I do not tread lightly” and it actually ended up in the last line in my friend’s poem. Pieces of my friends and loved ones scatter across my works. My friends are in commas or in deleting the adverbs that I so love. We are the conglomeration of every experience and memory we’ve ever had.
Support and acceptance go a long way for artists. Sometimes that’s all we need. How can we do it alone, especially if we still need to learn to support and accept ourselves?
4. You are your worst enemy.
Unless you’re being forced to never write for some reason, the only person in between you and your writing is you.
Sometimes I look at my journals with a deep sense of pride and I love that I’ve written so much. And then there’s times like these past few weeks where I look at them and my heart aches because I haven’t written in them as much as I used to.
I feel like I should be writing 24/7. I feel like I should be on Instagram more. I feel like I should be more skilled at everything. I wrote more about the shoulds in my post about imposter syndrome, and I write this post knowing I’m too hard on myself.
If you told me you were struggling with perfectionism so much that it crippled your ability to write, I would tell you that I understand and that it’s going to be okay. I wouldn’t give you a list of shoulds and expectations. I wouldn’t treat you as harshly as I do myself.
We are the Anton Ego of our lives. We mull over every word we write, cross-referencing if they’re correct. If we write “synonym of” into our search bar, we’ll be reminded of all the times we wanted to sound more sophisticated. We’ll cross out phrases as we write, then go back and rewrite it just in case. It’s exhausting to be so self-critical.
It’s so easy to treat others the way we want to be treated, but we need to learn how to treat ourselves the way we want to be treated.
5. You are your best cheerleader.
And that leads me to this. YOU are your best cheerleader. YOU are working with yourself all the time. YOU see exactly how much improvement you make and when you make it. I have kept almost everything I’ve ever written, which is insane. Somewhere in my parent’s storage, all my writings from 1st to 12th grade are tucked away in a box I haven’t found yet. I log into my Tumblr to read my cringey teen poetry. I keep all my journals in chronological order on my bookshelf, where they started as early as 2013.
I keep things I care about. I know that no matter how many demons I fight, nothing will change the fact that I love writing and I care about it. We will have our bad days, but we’ll also have our good ones.
On a really good day, I’ll pick up a fountain pen or my favorite Pilot G-2. I’ll listen to the eternal Lofi Girl stream on Youtube and couple it with rain or fireplace ambient noise. I’ll set myself up with the best cup of tea with a glug of oat milk and I’ll write my little heart out. I’ll send it to a friend. I’ll post it to Instagram, or I’ll turn the piece of prose into a blog post like I have here.
Practice self-love with writing when the doubt creeps in. I’ve been reading The 5 Love Languages and let me end this section with some examples of how to love and support yourself as a writer.
Words of Affirmation: Write why you’re proud of yourself and pin it where you can see it.
Quality Time: Set aside time to write. It could be 30 minutes or over an hour, but devote your time to writing and relishing in the feeling.
Receiving Gifts: Buy yourself a new journal or pen. Maybe even some stickers to vamp up the pages.
Acts of Service: Lean on others for support. Talk to a therapist. Vent to your friends. Writers need help too.
Physical Touch: Flip through a book and smell the pages. Run your fingers across the keyboard keys when you need a break. Cover your shoulders with a soft blanket. Stretch breaks!!!
You know how you want to be cheered on better than anyone. Get your pom poms ready!
6. Storage space.
It looms over my head every time I open Google Drive. Red box. Alert! “You’ve used 90% of your storage space.”*
Obviously, don’t let it get as bad as I did. I’m still soul searching for whether I should just bite the bullet and pay $20 a year for 100 GB or to get an external hard drive for thousands of photos and videos.
*Update: I am now spending $20 a year for Google storage. I will unsubscribe when I get an external drive LOL.
I digress. I know that as writers, we accumulate documents, journals, manuscripts, and a huge digital footprint of words. Can you imagine what a word cloud of all your writing ever would look like? I don’t want to—I’m afraid of how many adverbs will be in there.
My #1 tip is to keep your writing together and if you can’t store it yourself, entrust someone to do it for you. I made the mistake of not giving my sister detailed instructions on how to handle my writings/artwork/etc. after I moved out to go to university and that bit me in the butt so hard, the bruise left a scar. My parents don’t really organize . . . it’s more like chaotic hoarding.
It’s been six years and I haven’t found any of it. I don’t even have pictures of my favorite work.
But now, my journals are together on a bookshelf. All the essays that I am proud of from college are in plastic accordion folders (which saved them when my house flooded). I have remnants of my high school writing in a plastic pink folder I used for all my English classes (pink was English, green was math or history, and purple was science).
Make digital copies if that’s your preference. Just keep your work safe and together. Recycle pages you don’t want. In the end, it’s all up to you and your preference.