3 Ways Writing Made Me a Better Person
I’ve been a writer most my life, but professionally I’ve been writing for about 32 years. That’s when my first short story was published. I still remember the thrill of it!
In what areas have I grown as a writer? Oh, I’ve improved many ways. Really, I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning. That often meant learning the hard way.
Being a writer also contributed to my personal growth. I would venture to say that it’s made me a better person.
How so? Read on to find out! Then check out the links at the end of the article to see how my blogger buddies have grown as writers.
I started keeping a journal at age 12. Recently, I took a peek at the small green book that’s almost 50 years old and sadly falling apart.
Some days, I really did start my journal with the famous words: Dear Diary… But what caught my attention was how many days my journal began by saying “nothing much happened today.”
While that may have been true, that’s not exactly an exciting way to capture a reader’s attention. One of the first things I learned as a writer was how to hook a reader’s interest immediately. Probably the most important part of a story or article.
As you can see from the photo of two pages of my diary, on November 4th, I talked about how a boy gave my best friend a clay rose he made in art class. Then I add: “Bought me a new pair of roller skates.”
Actually, I miss the days when I counted these kinds of events as excitement. Didn’t take much to make me happy as a kid. To be that innocent and carefree again!
Unfortunately, the mundane experiences in life do not make for a great story. However, much of my first novel for young adults was taken from my first two diaries, so my life wasn’t totally boring!
Oh, the many lessons I had to learn. As a human being and a writer.
Learning the Basics
In my 20s, I decided to take up writing as a hobby. I began learning about literary themes, plotting, creating compelling characters, establishing a viewpoint, writing dialogue and descriptions, using conflict to create suspense and tension, and more.
Not by earning an English degree from a prestigious college, mind you. No doubt, impressive credentials would have helped get my career off the ground. But if there’s a hard way to do something, I’ll find it. Instead, I educated myself by taking writing classes at the local college, reading every book on writing in the library, enrolling in correspondence courses, and attending writer’s conferences and seminars.
I also learned by “doing.” In other words, by writing and writing some more. Practice makes better, as my youngest granddaughter says. (I like that so much better than “practice makes perfect.”)
And I learned through hard knocks in life – otherwise known as rejection letters from agents, editors, and publishers.
Fortunately, some were kind enough to take time to share valuable advice with me.
Like: “Stop with the exclamation points NOW!” Okay, okay, I guess it did seem like my characters were yelling all the time. I also had a fondness for endless dashes, for which I received a lecture.
Unfortunately, I found a list of 99 ways to say, “he said.” As a result, my characters bellowed, babbled, beamed, bawled, and blurted. I was proud of myself until an editor told me to knock it off with all the dialogue tags. I discovered a simple “he said” usually does the trick.
Did I mention that writing taught me humility? Not to mention, the ability to take advice from those with more knowledge and experience. Writing also taught me not to be overly-sensitive, develop a thick skin, and learn from failures. All good qualities to take through life.
As a newspaper reporter and magazine article writer, I learned how to write intriguing lead sentences, research and fact-check, interview people, use anecdotes, and add humor. When I began blogging and writing for online magazines and websites, I had to learn about keywords as well.
And don’t get me started on everything I had to learn about finding an agent, a publisher, and marketing a book.
By the way, I’ll be sharing what I learned in detail over the past three decades in an upcoming book for all of you who want to become writers. I’ve got SO many priceless tips for you. Since I’m a perfectionist when it comes to editing, I’m on my fifth edit. But publication is in the near future, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, writing has taught me many things personally as well. Let me share three life lessons with you that apply to life whether you’re a writer or not.
Don’t Let Fear Get in Your Way
Maybe you’ve had a dream your whole life.
But along with that lifetime goal you have a million reasons for not doing it. Sure, we’re all busy, but dig deeper and you may discover that you’re using excuses because you’re scared of failing.
If that’s the case, believe me, I’ve been there. Excuses were my forte when I was starting out.
[Envision my whiny voice.] I don’t know anyone in the publishing business and I don’t have a college education. I’m not good enough. If countless rejections come my way, I’ll give up and watch my precious dreams fade away. If I express my dream of becoming a professional writer out loud, friends and family will roll their eyeballs and laugh at me.
Remember, when I started writing in the early 1980s, options that exist today weren’t available. Self-publishing was expensive and blogging wasn’t even invented yet. Writers were pretty much at the mercy of book publishers, agents, and magazine editors. It was scary. The odds of succeeding as a writer were certainly against me.
I was definitely afraid of failing.
So, I convinced myself to be happy just dreaming about becoming an author one day. It was fun envisioning my novel on the shelves of Barnes and Noble and my first book signing. Content with fantasizing, I put my ideas for a novel aside and didn’t submit any of my work for publication for years.
I’d get distracted by life, which was easy with a job and two kids in tow. Sometimes months would go by before I’d write something. After all, writing was just a silly hobby.
Then, I attended a writer’s seminar – just for fun, of course, I told myself – and told a woman about my idea for a novel during lunch break. She asked me a simple but profound question. “What are you waiting for?”
Oh, I had a million excuses why I wasn’t pursing my passion. But she forced me to ask myself some important questions.
Did I want to go to my grave with regrets that I never followed my dreams? Sorry that I never even tried? Would I wonder what I could have accomplished if only I had mustered up enough courage and perseverance to pursue my goals?
With those questions bouncing around in my head, I bravely moved forward. Ultimately, I lived out the dream of seeing my books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble along with book signings at their stores.
My point: Don’t let fear get in the way of achieving your dreams. It’s your turn. What are you waiting for?
Practice Patience, Persistence, and Perseverance
These three P’s are not exactly my best virtues. Especially the patience part. But I did hang in there. I didn’t give up.
Some of my fears did come true during those early years. Turns out chasing your dreams isn’t easy.
I gathered enough rejection letters to wallpaper a room. Plenty of people gave me cynical looks when I dared to share my dreams of becoming a published writer. It took years before my first short story was published by a literary magazine for a whopping $22.
Then I decided to become a full-time freelance writer. That didn’t go so well either.
After my first short story was published, I sold an article written for a magazine article writing class at the local college to a regional parenting magazine. Then, a short piece for Woman’s World followed – my first national publication! I was on the moon. I continued to sell my work in the year that followed – another short story and several more articles to different regional magazines.
With my confidence boosted, I decided to become a full-time writer and quit my job.
Writing as a hobby was different; it was a thrill just to see my byline and earn a few bucks. But as a business, writing was super frustrating. Editors didn’t always answer my queries. Smaller magazines paid on publication, not acceptance, which often meant waiting months or even a year for payment. A few editors held articles for possible publication for months then sent a standard rejection letter.
By jumping the gun too soon, I was forced to temp as a receptionist at a hotel chain to make ends meet. A job I absolutely detested. Some days were spent crying in frustration and I swore off writing – not for the first or last time.
Fortunately, this has a happy ending because I didn’t give up. I practiced the three Ps and eventually achieved the goal of becoming a full-time freelance writer.
But it took years.
Am I happy that I persevered?
During the past three decades, I co-authored a book published by a prestigious publisher, landed a well-known literary agent, published two young adult novels and three non-fiction books, won three journalism awards, became an award-winning blogger, and had thousands of articles published in magazines, newspapers, as well as online publications. My book, I’m Your Daughter, Julie, even won grand prize in an international competition.
My point is not to brag, but to prove that anything is possible if you take that first step and have patience, persistence, and perseverance.
Of course, I can’t promise that you’ll achieve fame and fortune – I didn’t – but aren’t you curious about what could happen if you don’t give up?
Practice those three Ps in all areas of your life and all kinds of benefits will follow.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
Dreams are great, but while pursuing your passion, don’t forget what’s truly important in life.
When I was younger, the wide range of feelings I experienced, dependent on my success or failures, were dizzying at times.
When a well-known agent agreed to represent my young adult novel, I was dancing on tables. When the book didn’t sell and my agent dumped me, my self-confidence took a dive. When I received three journalism awards and had a book I co-wrote published by McGraw-Hill, I was on top of the world! When my second novel was rejected, my dreams came crashing down again. You get the picture.
And, keep in mind, I was more successful than a lot of writers who never get traditionally published. Yet, it was still hard not to get swept away by my emotions.
There’s a reason many famous writers totally dedicated to their craft were alcoholics. They made the mistake of putting all their eggs in one basket.
You shouldn’t live and die by whether you get published by a traditional publishing house or your book receives tons of rave reviews. You shouldn’t allow financial success to be the measure of your success as a writer and certainly not as a person.
No matter what your dreams or goals are, this principle applies. Don’t make your whole world about your version of succeeding. Have a well-balanced life that includes time for your spirituality, your loved ones, and other interests. And never forget to count your blessings.
As you can see, my writing career has indeed taught me many valuable things. And I’m still learning! What I love about writing – and life – is that you never stop learning.
Now that you’ve read about my professional and personal growth as a writer, come check out the following links to see how becoming a writer has affected the lives of my fellow authors and bloggers. Their stories are so inspiring!
What has life and/or your career taught you? Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it!
Sandra Bennett: What I Have Learnt as a Write That Can Also Help You
Books by Rose: Summer Blog Hop, What I’ve Learned as a Writer
Auden Johnson: 9 Years as an Indie Fantasy Author – What I’ve Learned
Julie, I really enjoyed hearing about your writing journey. I’m super excited to read your next book on this! (Yes, I made that exclamation point on purpose.)
Thanks for helping people out there with this article. It sure is good to know what others go through as they work their way through this process.
Agreed! Loved reading about you and our other author friends’ experiences down this journey as well.
Hi Julie, every time I read a little bit more about you, I realise how much we have in common. Thanks for a fabulous article, I really enjoyed learning more about your journey and can’t wait to read your next book! I too, couldn’t resist adding the exclamation mark. We all learn by making that mistake at some point.
I felt the same way after reading your blog. I could relate to so much of it. Glad to hear other writers were exclamation point abusers at some point as well!!! Lol
I think finding different ways to say said is like a rite of passage for authors. I did the same thing until someone told me to stop. Totally agree with the three Ps. Going after your dreams, especially a creative one, requires a whole lot of patience, persistence and perseverance. Thanks for sharing your journey.
Enjoyed reading about your writing journey as well, Auden. You face special challenges in your genre I hadn’t thought about before. Like you said in your blog, writing is an addiction and if you were truly meant to be a writer you always come back to it. That’s certainly been the case with me!