What’s the most important attribute for a writer?

Facility with words, creativity, imagination, even empathy — all of these are important. They can be cultivated. The hardest thing to learn and live is the most important.

We need patience to build the skills …

… to write the book

… to revise and polish the words

… to build the author platform

It all takes time.

Impatience is the problem

I confess, sometimes impatience rears its head.

I want to get the book done quickly, so set nearly impossible deadlines for myself, and then miss them.

Others want to write well, and are frustrated…

“Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?”

Ann Patchett, “The Getaway Car”

Want to become a better writer? Forget sitting around waiting for inspiration. You’re going to have to practice. You can improve quickly or slowly, but you won’t make progress without practice.

Practice is almost magical-and it’s accessible to everyone.

Reframing Your Feelings About Practice

My parents made my siblings and me take piano lessons as children.

As an adult, I recognize the gift of that decision. Music lessons introduce us early in life to the cumulative power of practice…

Lessons in the cumulate power of practice

A person’s hand, writing with pen in a journal on a wood table
A person’s hand, writing with pen in a journal on a wood table

On January 1, 2021, I opened a brand new journal, picked up a favorite pen, and wrote a simple anecdote about my first Zoom New Year’s Eve party the night before.

This was the first step in a prolonged experiment: What would happen if I wrote a story or anecdote every single day for a year?

I’m on my second journal now, and not planning to stop. The task takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how absorbed I become. It’s a welcome daily practice.

This experiment focuses on the first, fundamental skill of storytelling-identifying the story. I…

A ship’s wake on the ocean
A ship’s wake on the ocean

An artist on my email list shared her frustration with the social universe and its effect on her motivation to share her work. She put things out in the world, and didn’t get many likes or comments. She became disenchanted with Instagram (although it’s a great medium for her visual pieces.)

This affects writers as well. We labor, we publish, … we wait.

It’s hard putting your work out in the world. But it’s even harder when you hear nothing back in response.

When All You Can See is the Wake

We cannot see the people who encounter our work, or watch its effect on them. All we…

Ideas are like sunflowers — they may arrive unannounced, and not all will reach full height.

a field of sunflowers under a cloudy sky
a field of sunflowers under a cloudy sky

Our first crop of sunflowers was a gift from unseen forces-a bird, perhaps, or a squirrel? The seedlings poked their heads up in the two raised beds in our garden-in and amongst the poppies, alongside the cosmos plants we had raised from seeds and planted in the bed.

My husband Steve (the one who does the gardening), contemplated the upstarts.

“I’m going to let these grow and see what they are.”

He had an inkling they were something special-volunteers worth giving a chance. I suspected they were broad-leafed weeds, but agreed.

A few weeks later, he was certain. “They’re sunflowers.”

Defend Your Creative Life from Unnecessary Obligations

Wooden recreation of the Trojan horse
Wooden recreation of the Trojan horse

We live our lives surrounded by a chorus of shoulds.

They accumulate gradually, as we try to improve. We read the best practices, success stories and guides. We listen to industry experts and accept friendly tips-and most of them come loaded with new things we should be doing.

For example, if you’re trying to be a writer, you’ll find plenty of advice about what other authors have done, how to write, how to publish, how to be successful.

If you want to be a writer, you should…

Here’s how I wrote my book or experienced success, you should do the…

How to Prime Your Writing Pump

blank journal page with pen and cup of coffee
blank journal page with pen and cup of coffee

You sit down to write, but can’t come up with anything good enough to besmirch the pristine whiteness of the blank page.

Perhaps you know what you want to write about. Even so, your inner critic bashes everything you propose. For every keystroke you make, there’s a backspace.

Once this encounter with the empty page happens a few times, limiting thoughts barge in. You’ve got writer’s block. Maybe you’re not cut out to do this. You’ve got nothing to write, so why torture yourself?

This may have nothing to do with your being a writer, and everything to do with…

A Cautionary Tale for Writers and Speakers

An old-fashioned watch buried in the sand
An old-fashioned watch buried in the sand

Are you inadvertently wasting other people’s time when you speak or write? Here’s a cautionary tale for anyone who works in a field that uses acronyms, abbreviations, and other jargon.

“We had an NPS of 80.”

That comment came from a marketer on a panel discussion in a video. She was referring to Net Promoter Score -a metric of how willing customers are to recommend a business to others.

A few people commented on that score, and then the conversation moved on. I thought nothing of it, alas.

But here’s the thing-not everyone on the panel came from the world…

Lessons from Whale Watching

Sighting a whale is always a thrill, even from a great distance.

The first thing you usually see is the whale’s exhalation-the spout. A white, misty column appears suddenly on the horizon, then slowly dissipates as you focus in on it.

Is it a whale? You watch and wait.

Somewhere, underneath the distant surface, a large, magnificent creature is breathing, surfacing, rolling.

Then another spout appears nearby. Yes! …

Readers Have Other Things On Their Minds

Open books with pages riffling on a white background. Question: How many books have you abandoned?
Open books with pages riffling on a white background. Question: How many books have you abandoned?

I have a quirky book problem. Once I get through the first few chapters of a book, I feel obligated to keep going, even if I’ve entirely lost interest.

I start skimming, flipping through pages-doing anything so that I feel like I reached the end legitimately. It seems absurd even as I do it, but if I page through to the last page, then I’ve met some kind of obligation and given the author the benefit of the doubt.

Sometimes I can’t even do that. My Kindle is cluttered with the relics of books that I cannot quite delete. …

Anne Janzer

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta). AnneJanzer.com

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