The best unsolicited advice I've ever received.

pink clouds

These are 7 of the most illuminating pieces of advice I've ever received from writers about writing. This is wisdom that shaped my career and life (probably more than these advice-givers even know).

I remember each of the following conversations with vivid clarity. I can see exactly where I was when each of these wise people told me what they told me.

In some cases, their advice turned on an immediate light: I got the point and made a significant change in my life right away. Sometimes it took me years before I understood what they meant. More than once, I didn't take the advice -- and learned why it would have been a good idea later.


1. Be more positive. Cynicism, negativity and writerly angst doesn't help. That whole "I have to be unhappy to write" thing is a myth. No you don't. Being negative hurts your writing - it doesn't help it. You will be a more brilliant writer if you work on becoming a healthy person. Heather Jessup, author of The Lightning Field


2. Don't do an MFA for your writing. Be a dog walker. Be a fire fighter. Work in a kitchen. Have real experiences. Live a rich, varied life: that is where your material will come from. Nikki Tate, author of The StableMates young fiction series


3. Don't go to university for your writing - go on silent retreats instead. Meditate. People will think you are crazy or weird for doing this. Do it anyway. Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones & Old Friend From Far Away


4. Write by hand. And doodle while you work. Use a separate piece of paper (or your margins) to scribble, paint, or draw when you don't know what to write. It is good to just slowly and simply write the letters of the alphabet. An important part of your brain can't tell the difference between drawing the letters of the alphabet and "making art." When you use your hands to make marks on a page, you are making art. This releases your best writing. Lynda Barry, author of What It Is & Picture This (for more on this awesome theory, watch this TED talk by Sunni Brown)


5. The very best time to write is right now, before you've had anything published, before anyone knows who you are and what your voice sounds like. You can write without any publisher (or reader) expectations. You can do whatever you want. ENJOY THIS TIME! As soon as you publish a book, that changes. John Gould, author of Kilter & Seven Reasons Not to Be Good


6. Just because you publish something doesn't mean it's good. Publication shouldn't be your goal. Do you want to write something incredible and groundbreaking? Don't look to publication for that. That goes beyond publication. Zsuzsi Gartner, author of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives


7. You don't have to have children. There are a lot of people having children out there: there's no shortage. It's hard to be a writer and a mother, and you aren't less of a person if you don't sign up for that particular life challenge. It's okay if you choose to write and let other people choose to have children. Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats & All Over Creation


Maybe one or two of these gems ring out for you, too. If they do, and you know other people who need to hear them, please share this letter widely.

In writing and life,

xoxo,

Sarah” width=

Your writing doesn't take time, it makes time.
Why you're going to write in 2012.

12 comments

Emmie Mears

Awesome post! I connect a lot with the last one on there. My sister has almost 7 kids (one's in the utero-flux), and I just got married. I have a lot of things I want to do before I decide to become a mom, and this is some good validation for my decision to postpone it. There is a lot to be said for being a whole person -- experience makes us better in more ways than one. Thanks for a great post!
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Paul Handover

Fabulous post.
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Sarah Selecky

Thank you so much, Emmie and Paul.
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Be Happy, Be Calm & Carry On « Write Am I

[...] sent me a link about writing advice by Sarah Selecky.  The article is great. But I would like to concentrate on her first point:  Be more positive. [...]
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Julie Pruitt

Great advice! I especially like five and seven. Number five makes me feel good about being a new writer and tells me it's ok to take things slow and enjoy the ride!
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Very helpful advice! About the last point, though: writing when you have kids isn't as difficult as some imagine. I have four children, three of whom are three and under. In the past few years, I've published five short stories in print journals, written more than 150 articles, the first draft of a novel and an ebook. By the time I'm 40, my youngest (twins) will be old enough to look after themselves and I'll be able to make up for all the workshops and conferences I'm missing out on at the moment. Sure, I don't write as fast with a couple of babies in my arms, but motherhood has given me plenty of writing material and emotional experience. The thing about kids is they don't stay kids forever!
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Donna Thompson

I was drawn by your title "unsolicited advice" , an ironic combination of words. :) I am not sure of the correlation between writing as a state of mind and not having children, yet you say be involved in life eg. firemen, dogwalker or other and that is useful to your penning. What about a husband or wife? Luckily the readers in the comment boxes took this as taking their time with the decision of being a parent or the other lady that just completely challenged the premise. Having children, being a couple or not has, really,nothing to do with writing in my humble opinion. Live a full life, with learning , choice and involvement with others. Each person has to find that definition for themselves and the formula is gray maybe nonexistent. There are resources to help. I would agree with you that being published as an end goal inhibits the creative process. Answer: Self publish, web publish, facebook post or tweet. Are we tolerant of first works over 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th works as readers, writers and publishers? This would reduce the pressure and encourage innovation, art in penning. Nice to see the process sometimes, the context of growth. This way you are still getting your material out for readers, sharing your writing but not modifying the energy and voice dramatically to fit the publishing model or trend penning. We do not always have to have a fully polished product now as people are on Wattpad, sharing chapters on sites etc. If this is not for you, do not engage but know it exists and maybe write about it. :) I believe that there are some publishing houses that are still very much about the literary form and new voices. You are right Sarah the big box publishers need to compete in a growing market. They need best sellers. I like what you say about working with your style and voice in the absence of external pressures, key. The hard part will be keeping true to your style, once your get out there, while also growing as a writer. Your advice on this is strong, thank you. Reflecting on critique is better than knee jerk reactions to them, more rich. You mention this Sara. Nice! Your own critique and ?s for your work should be the toughest. Take a break, too on yourself. Thank you for all your work and insights for writers. I hope we, in turn, have entered the comment boxes and articulated a post that gives you some pause for reflection. Congratulations on your new publish! I enjoyed reading the other comments , as well. I love doodling it helps me to concentrate , thank you.
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Kelli Landon

Love this! I wish I had read it before I published my first novel, but will save these tips!! I love the doodling one! Never even thought of this!! Thank you so much Sarah!!
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Questions the Internet cannot answer | TBD

[…] learn by going out and doing it – see item #2 on writer Sarah Selecky’s list of the best unsolicited advice she’s received. What it takes to understand yourself – well, this is the part that I’m working on. I […]
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I especially connected with #s 4 and 5. I love to journal by hand before writing. Sometimes I spend more time journaling than actually "writing." I've taken to using colored pens and highlighters and doing some doodling, changing pen colors. It makes my journal more interesting and fun for me and I think all of the color stimulates my imagination. I agree about enjoying the time before publishing--I've been doing that for years. So fun! Enjoy every moment, writers!
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Andre Harris

The Romans had a saying 'books or children' and they meant that for men (who had wives AND slaves). I don't know what they would have made of today's women authors. trying to do it all. Obviously having children doesn't preclude being a writer and it does give you material, but it is a lot harder. Only you can decide if you NEED to have children, but if you don't need it, you'll be making your life a lot easier not just in terms of time, but also in terms of the money you need to survive.
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One & three are very good - in fact they are all great and so true! Started late with this "hobby" but the harder I work, the more I am really enjoying the results. Live on the west coast of Canada, but grew up in eastern Ontario & know your area well... Good website!
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