Five Things All Writers Can Control

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.




  1. Denise Marois-Wolf on September 29, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Thanks, Lee. Writing is a tough, lonely profession, and I think these tips are well worth remembering.

    • Lee Martin on September 29, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      You got that right, Denise! But we don’t have to feel so lonely. As Forster said, “Only connect.”

    • Robert Johnson on September 29, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      This makes it less lonely, doesn’t it–knowing that even successful writers have to wrestle with things like rejection and simply finding the time to write. It’s inspiring to hear. Thanks, Lee.

      • Lee Martin on September 30, 2014 at 2:07 pm

        Robert, sometimes we writers forget we’re members of the same tribe. Thanks for reading my blog and for taking the time to leave a comment. I wish you all the best with your work.

  2. Beth on September 29, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Dear Lee,
    Thank you for these words of wisdom. They all ring true. Sometimes when I’m stuck, stopping to read is the solution, and I’m amazed by how often exactly what I need to read falls into my lap. And the solution is ALWAYS to try to have a bigger heart and a more generous spirit, even when it feels as if you won’t be able to manage or contain it. So what if a couple of tears spill out? The “overfull” tears are wonderful, although we can’t forget to get those tears out through our fingers, too.
    Your piece reminds me a bit of the one Steve Almond did in this month’s Poets & Writers. Big empathy helps grow our writing.

    • Lee Martin on September 29, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      Nicely said, Beth. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Kossiwa Logan on September 30, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I just started reading your blog and find what I’ve read to be helpful. As a recent MFA graduate I’m struggling to find the balance between job searching and writing. I wake up early in the morning, around four because writing is something I have to do but I need a job to live. Thank you for this blog.

  4. Lee Martin on September 30, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Dear Kossiwa, thanks very much for reading my blog and for taking the time to leave a comment. I well remember those post-MFA days of trying to find time to write while also making a living. Whatever time you can spare will be enough for now. Keep doing the good work!

  5. Robert Sykes on October 3, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Well into my seventh decade and casting longer shadows, I delight in engagement with community activism…in the past year I have started working in a prison rereintegration program,been invited to serve on a Human Rights Commission and organized a committee to develop a grant to benefit a wide variety of marginalized people…each of these new initiatives (along with several longstanding civic interests) provide fresh material and insights for writing…each exists as an unsubmitted manuscript,overflowing with validation and potential for the writer within…Blessings and Gratitude Lee

  6. Lee Martin on October 5, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Frank O’Connor, in his book “The Lonely Voice,” wrote about the short story form as one that spoke for what he called “submerged populations.” All writing can do that, Robert. Keep doing the good work.

Leave a Comment