Most writers are desperate for validation. We want someone to tell us we’re good. We want to know we’re good because people publish our work, talk about our work, give us awards for our work. We can spend a good deal of energy worrying about such things. The truth is so much of publishing and what happens beyond is out of our hands. The time we spend worrying is time that could be better spent paying attention to the things we can actually control. So here’s my list, for whatever it’s worth.
1. The amount of time we spend actually writing. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time each day, but it should be consistent and uninterrupted. The more we write, the better we write. No one else cares a whit about how much time we’re putting in, but we should care; we should care a great deal.
2. The amount of time we spend reading, and I mean reading with an eye toward the artistic choices another writer makes and the effects those choices create. If we want to make something, we have to study how others have made it. We have to internalize their techniques.
3. The amount of time we spend engaging with the world. We writers can be loners. We’re tempted to hole up in our private spaces and to stay there. But if we’re not living, we’re not really writing. I’ve always thought of my own work as a cycle of immersion and retreat, going out into the world and then coming back. As I age, I’m trying to expand my world by doing things and going places that are slightly out of my realm of experience. It gives me another lens through which to see the new as well as the familiar.
4. The degree of generosity that we have toward our fellow-writers. Face it, what we do isn’t easy, and yet we’re sometimes loathe to aid the development, or applaud the success, of others. Believe me when I say we’re all part of the same club. Another’s success benefits all of us. (See number 2). When we have a generous heart, we have an open heart. We take in more of the world, and our work becomes richer.
5. The way we handle disappointment. People will say no to you. No matter how much success you have, people will still say no to you. It’s a fact, an occupational hazard. Get used to it. Toughen up. Use rejection to motivate you. Keep focused on the work (See number 1). Keep writing.