One True Thing


Writing is not a balanced, cyclical endeavor.  Not by any means.  In talking with other writers, I often learn something new about the process that I didn’t know before.  For one, writers’ processes are like fingerprints: I haven’t yet found two that are identical.  Though they all contain a similar foundation – the need/urge/desire to write – how one gets to that point is unique to the individual.

When I was first starting out – which means when I first committed to becoming the best writer I could be in this lifetime – I was amazed at all the different “how to” books there were on writing.  It seemed that everyone had a the surefire way to become an overnight success.  I invested a lot of time, energy, and money on those books.  Over the course of fourteen years, what have I learned from all that reading and potentially all that education?

Very little.  Except this…

No one – no one– has the secret to writing success.  Each person/writer/author has an opinion or a theory on what worked for them, but not one of them can tell you what’s best for you as a writer.  Of course there are certain things that are pretty much common sense when it comes to writing.  Those are the standards for writing in general, but again, not everyone follows the same rules.  In trying to sell books, these how-to authors hope you’ll buy their theory on what makes a successful, but even they don’t know for sure that it’ll work.  All they do know is that if they can convince you that they hold the secret, the key, you’ll spend your money.  And many do spend their money.  They’re counting on the fact that you’re seeking the answers, the quick fix, the secret to success.

I did.

Then, being the observant writer I am, I began to notice that very few of those how-to books agreed on the path to certain success.  Over the course of several months, I made myself pay closer attention to not only my own process, but others’ as well.  When I attended writing conferences, I paid attention – not to the workshop presenters – but to the attendees in the room.  What were they responding to?  When did the most heads bend over their notebooks as they hurriedly jotted something down?  Every time I saw that it was an alleged tidbit on how to best do something.  Some of those presenters were candid enough to state that there was no one “right way” to writing success, and to further clarify that they could only know what worked for them.

So I came away from my research with the idea that no one knows what’ll hit and what will miss.  However, as a counterpoint to this, my own experience and the answers I received in the numerous writing workshops I personally presented, I did learn one true thing.


Write for yourself.  When you write for yourself, you learn what your unique process is, you find your voice more readily, and you grow your confidence much more quickly, which leads to YOUR way of writing.  Therein you’ve found your way to success.  Because those who write for themselves can go deeper into their creative soul and come back to the surface with some amazing things.  Time and again this has proven to be true.

When you write to please others – an agent, a critique group, a mentor – you essentially don a mask that hides your true writer self.  It’s the rare writer who can avoid bending to peer pressure, especially when they are still searching for their process.  We are much too malleable, like a child trying to please its parents.

“Oh, this is the right way to do it?”  So we scramble to begin doing it in exactly that way.  And we fail.

“Oh, that is the right way to do it?” We scramble again to do it the other way.  And we fail again.

Why?  Because we’re not honoring ourselves.  We are the paths to our own success.  Yes, Hemingway was an extremely successful writer, and he was known for creating sentences that were poetically brief yet incredibly vivid.  Could you imagine him writing like Dickens? Like Poe?

No.  Had he tried, we may never have heard the name Hemingway.

Are all those other thousands of methods incorrect?  Negative.  Sometimes we have to try on a lot of different clothes before we find the ones that best suit us.  I had a love affair (not literally, mind you) with Stephen King for two decades.  I wanted to write like him in the worst possible way.  I ate/lived/breathed his early writing.  And I did try to write like him.  But it wasn’t me.  I’m not that writer.  I’m not Stephen King. It was fun while it lasted, but had I known that I would turn a sharp corner in my career and head off in unexpected directions – the roads less traveled, if you will – I might not have wasted spent so much time in trying to imitate his style.  In defense of that time, though, I will state with certainty that it helped me understand his process better, and in doing so, find my own.

So perhaps the point of this post is cautionary, to read as much as you can about others processes, but always maintain your individuality while doing so, and know that you will never be anyone other than yourself.  And that’s who you need to be writing for.

5 thoughts on “One True Thing

  1. Yes, yes, yes!! We must write for ourselves 1st to discover our voice. There’s no magic success steps (1, 2, 3…) in learning the art of successful writing. Writing is an art form, and the real magic emerges from the organic nature of the visionaries mind.

    • Thank you, and welcome, Nikoya! Perhaps writers should be teaching creative meditation instead of “how-to succeed.” 🙂 I know when I am tapped into my creative “source code,” I am transported to the world of my imagination, and it is a vast world. I love to spend time there when not in the “real” world.

  2. My first thought, when I decided to check out that particular section of the bookstore, was that the quickest, easiest, way to make money in writing was probably to write a book called, “How to Make Quick Easy Money by Writing!”. and publish that.

    The only fundamental truths I’ve noticed so far are the same ones that lead to success in any other business from fast food to physical chemistry: Work had, don’t burn bridges.

    • I laughed at that typo…thought you were stating it in Bostonese. 🙂 I had the same thought on my walk with the dogs this morning. Write a “how-to” book, then wondered how I would pitch it. By saying that my book contradicts almost everything the other books are saying? *he he* Probably become a fast seller just based on the other, pissed off authors buying copies. Then burning them.

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