Advice to a young writer just starting out

My poor younger friend Mike, also a writer, innocently messaged me a question.

M: Cathy, what do you tell aspiring writers?

C: In what regard?

M: When someone says they want to make a career out of it?
C: Driving, will brb.

Danger, Will Robinson, this gives me time to actually think about it.

C: Okay, first YAY!

M: Yay?

C: 2. LEARN YOUR CRAFT AND FORM! (Currently struggling with screenwriting 28 years after tying for a playwright award with someone who went on to write for a major soap opera for 20+ years!)
3. Go all in or forget it. You have to not just “want to be a writer,” you have to do the work, finish the projects.

4. Find a love who respects and is supportive of your work. GENUINELY SUPPORTIVE. This will show up in a myriad of ways when you’re with someone who isn’t: time, solitude, need to discuss, bounce ideas, sometimes financial, because your projects won’t pay consistently like a day job.

Yay for creativity!

Find someone who can handle writer weirdness. Need for long periods uninterrupted, drifting mind during conversations, because writing in head at same time, etc. because WE ARE ALWAYS WRITING!

5. Find a job that works with writing, so if you want to write comedy, nudge yourself into a production assistant at a show or movie, be in the industry. Or at least live close to it. (I hate my Virginia suburb for this. Loved Boston for it. See 4. financial, your projects won’t pay until they reach the right hands.)

6. LOVE IT HARD!! Enjoy it!! Get out of your own way! Finished is better than perfect.

7. EDIT, say more with less, be clear.

M: Damn. Alright. Alright.
My response was: FLEE! FLEE FOR YOUR LIFE!

C: Oh good, because my short answer was go big or go home.

And don’t have kids! Lol!

Not really on the kids, but if you want them and you want to write, understand that your life will take a tectonic shift in focus, especially if you’re the primary or default parent.

I once read about John Updike’s writing habits of at least 6 hours a day out in the shack out back, “or he didn’t feel like a writer.” What he failed to mention was where his wife and kids were during his long uninterrupted daily time in his writing haven. Did his wife have a career? Did she write? I KNOW NOTHING OF HER!

Virginia Woolf had an excellent point about A Room of One’s Own for women, that we are either biologically built for (seriously, there are quantitative brain function differences that serve community focus vs individual focus between men and women. Google it, I’m not a scientist, just a curious geek) or trained societally over generations, or both to be at everyone else’s beck and call. I find it becomes very difficult to transition focus back to writing when you always have someone in your family vying for attention, either by necessity, fun, or logististical reasons.

The long alone silences (or with music or whatever works for you, I often half-listen to podcasts, it reminds me of sitting in cafes and writing while overhearing conversations) are necessary not just imaginatively, but for problem solving when you know something isn’t quite right about what you have written so far.

So, to my friend Michael Wagner, my apologies for the flood response in text, but thank you for the inspiration to blog about writing life again!


When last we met, I blogged about working on two projects and having more time with the start of the school year.

“Ha!” I say, more time, yes. More time to take care of a variety of things. More time for school issues for two of three spawn to crop up. Interestingly, more time to move away from adapting book to screenplay to a new screenplay idea, definitely not children’s topic. Time for a laptop to burn itself out, and a smart phone to decide to quit working simultaneously. More time for me to twiddle my thumbs on ideas while dealing with school issues, taking care of myself and home. More time to journal and read actual books, and listen to podcasts on creative process when the replacement phone came in. Still haven’t replaced the laptop. Currently using an old slowpoke one that cuts out on me in the middle of things.

I’ve really been processing how my writing process works. Some people can do the daily grind well. I think of an old college friend who is making her living as a steamy writer, Cherie Noel. or another old college friend, who also is pumping out words daily, at an admirable pace and whose latest steamy book is due out at any moment, Jenna Kendrick. These two write in the romance genre, and I have tried, I really have, but I just can’t. I was never much of chick flick girl. I have read my share of Harlequins as a teen and beyond, but it’s just not where I live in writing. Anyway, these two genre masters can pump out thousands of words a day! Day after day! I admire them greatly for it. Their books are fun, by the way, go check them out!

But it’s just not how my creativity works. I do journal almost every day, and sometimes that is all I get. I have finally learned about myself that on one level I am always writing, waking, sleeping,  no matter what I am doing in a given moment. For that, I am grateful. I am swimming internally in creativity and ideas all the time. However, actually processing those thoughts and getting them to paper or typed on a screen takes me a lot of time in fits and starts. I can see an entire movie version of an idea in a moment’s time, and then take years to get it from that initial mental burst to a viable story. I struggle to come up with the words to match the thoughts, and I love doing it. It is hard and constantly editing work for me. It makes me a little jealous of my friends above.

I have done Nanowrimo a handful of times and never completed it. It helped me learn that I have receptive creativity and productive creativity spates of time. Some days or weeks, I just have to process internally while dealing with other aspects of life. Some weeks, the train tracks of thought link into each other and I can get from city to city in my mind really easily on the page. I’m calling plot points cities for the sake of the set up. The first couple of times at Nanowrimo were pretty damning for me, because life happens a lot around here, my old blog was musingsinmayhem for a reason. I beat myself up a lot for not making the daily word count. Later, I used Nanowrimo as a way to knock out chunks on existing projects, to plant myself in a chair and just do it. I can’t say I was always happy with the results.

I learned it’s okay to be me and accept that some days, I just don’t meet the chair. Some days, I steep myself in life and books, movies, podcasts, what a world we live in these days! Those days inform my writing for the better. Some days, I don’t seem to do a whole lot of anything from the outside, but worlds are revealing themselves inside. Some days, a walk brings a poem, and that is a necessary part of who I am, and leads to stories, book projects, screenplays.

So, if you’re thinking of your writing process, and feeling a little frustrated, that is just fine and part of the process, too. Enjoy it, the next wave of creativity will rise, and break on the shore. Sometimes that hovering moment before the words spill out is the best moment of creative process. When everything is glistening like glass in the sun, that’s where the magic is.