Ten Thoughts on the Writing Life

More and more these days, I’m convinced that how we approach our work has a crucial connection to the quantity and quality of the work we produce. Much of our writing lives are spent in solitude, both physically and mentally. We often hope for good results so desperately that we rush the process. Sometimes we’re too afraid of failure and too afraid to occupy the uncomfortable places where our writing takes us. We have to respect the fact that we’re imperfect and may fall short of what we imagine for a particular piece, but we also have to be courageous enough to keep doing the work, trusting in our talents. Sometimes we’ll succeed, and we’ll be tempted to believe that now we’ve made it and from here on everything will be smooth sailing. It won’t be. We need to accept that. Each blank page or screen—each new piece—carries with it its own set of challenges to meet. When we fall short, we’ll be tempted to fall into despair. We have to resist that temptation. We have to keep going steadily about our work. Being regular with our writing routines is a good thing. Writing is a self-generating process. The more we do it, the better we do it. This means we sometimes have to remove ourselves from our loved ones. We have to close the door to our writing rooms and have that period of uninterrupted time to work. We should never forget, though, to get out of those writing rooms to explore the world. We have to experience life before we can shape it. Success will come, no matter how slowly or intermittently. Writing is a lifelong apprenticeship, full of peaks and valleys. Take time to celebrate the peaks; don’t dwell too long in the valleys. Take pleasure in the work.

1.         We have to be comfortable with solitude.

2.         We have to exercise patience.

3.         We have to be fearless.

4.         We have to be afraid.

5.         We have to resist making too much of our successes.

6.         We have to resist making too much of our shortcomings.

7.         We have to put in the time and the effort.

8.         We sometimes have to be selfish with our time even if we end up disappointing those  who matter most to us.

9.         We have to open ourselves to the world and all its mysteries, and contradictions, and wonders.

10.       We have to take time to celebrate our successes, but not too much time; we have to get back to work.



  1. Jayne Martin on March 31, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Good stuff, Lee. I often feel like Sisyphus. No sooner do I finish something and feel elated, then I’m back at the bottom of the hill with another damn boulder.

  2. Lee Martin on April 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Ah, Jayne! I know the feeling. And in spite of that, it’s a pleasant life, no?

  3. kelly thompson on April 8, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    Thanks for reminding me that I’m in the right place. I realize that writing is about writing, not getting published, money, fame, or anything else. Those can be byproducts but they should not be my focus. I wonder if I am pushing myself a bit trying to meet a contest deadline coming up. On one hand, I think getting a polished stand alone piece out of my 200 page (so far) memoir will help me toward completion, if my stuff is not ready to submit by the deadline, it’s not ready. I feel pressure to make it ready. Arrrgh. This is my struggle. In the meantime, I just experienced a small break through recently when I began narrating in the second person, something I may continue and use as a strand in the braided narrative I’m creating. This is my first book project but, more than that, it is the first I have committed my life to my writing, period. Made writing my priority. Made writing, reading, and thinking about writing and reading what I do. It’s a roller coaster and it’s thrilling.

    • Lee Martin on April 9, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      Kelly, I know that feeling of wanting to be patient but being eager at the same time. Use that eagerness to produce pages. Then get some distance so you can see if those pages are worthy of sending out into the world.

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