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Beliefs About Writing

September 3, 2012

“Most writers–beginning and accomplished–are just too hard on themselves … Be hard on your sentences, be hard on your paragraphs, be ceaseless and unrelenting in your revisions, but stop questioning your ability to be a writer … Let go of that worry and focus on how strong a writer you can become.” –Dinty Moore in Crafting the Personal Essay

We hold beliefs that affect our writing, whether we are conscious of those beliefs or not. Years ago I started a list of things I believe about writing—some helpful, some hindering—so I could become more aware of how they affect my writing process.

Some of my beliefs are smart; others are pure neurosis. From time to time I revisit and revise my list. Here is some of what I believe about writing now:

  1. Talking about writing is not writing.
  2. Showing up to do the work—fully present and open to possibility—is the hardest part of writing.
  3. When my life is difficult or depressing, I remember it’s all material.
  4. No one gets it right the first time.
  5. Don’t get stuck in an idea when another one is trying to happen.
  6. Writing well isn’t easy or everyone could do it.
  7. I will always be learning to write.
  8. Make a mess. You can always clean it up later.
  9. Listen to the beta reader’s critique, but make your own decisions.
  10. My ex will think everything I write is about him.
  11. I am always proving my inner critic wrong, but that doesn’t make it go away.
  12. Creation is painful. Revision is a blast.
  13. Reading work out loud is a good way to detect errors, tangles, and crap.
  14. Laughing out loud while writing is good, even if it’s not during the funny parts.
  15. My standards are higher than my abilities allow me to reach.
  16. My best writing happens when I’m not thinking about it.
  17. I remain cautious about sharing my work in early draft. It’s fragile then, and so am I.
  18. There is always a nugget of truth in every criticism.
  19. Time slows down painfully while you wait for someone to read your work.
  20. I am kinder to other writers than I am to myself.
  21. No one else can write the story I can write.
  22. A piece of writing is never finished. All I can do is write it to the best of my ability and let it go.
  23. I’m a better writer than I used to be.
  24. Although writing is not a social activity, writer-friends are necessary.
  25. I need to have patience with the writing process and with myself.

Whenever I revisit and revise my list, I notice how my beliefs have changed. By being more mindful of them, the beliefs that hinder me tend to go away or at least lose some of their power over me.

Some of the more self-defeating ones do linger. (I am human.) They have a habit of nagging me at the worst possible times. I’ve given up on thinking they will ever go away, but I’ve gotten much better about ignoring them.

You are what you believe. What beliefs do you hold about writing? Which ones help you? Hinder you?  Share your thoughts in the comment section.
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Mary Ann de Stefano is a writer, editor, and writing coach with 30 years of experience in publishing and writing consulting. She does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

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