It’s about now that every writer worth their sodium chloride goes back through the year that was and summarises their spreadsheet for all to see. (What? You don’t have a spreadsheet?) I’m not going to do that this time – oh sure, I’d love to wax lyrical about the highs and lows and in-betweens, as it’s been a pretty good year for me, but…I’d like to do something else.

Instead, I want to talk about some of the life lessons you’re faced with as a writer.

The writing process takes place in isolation. No matter how many tweets I share (when I’m not selling, promoting someone else or entertaining myself), no matter the intrinsic value of writing groups and no matter the benefits of online feedback, it all comes down to a full head and a blank page and no distractions please. Sometimes the words flow like honey and other times they’re as stodgy as a water sandwich. Either way, if your goal is a completed piece you’ll stay the course. The end may not always justify the means, but it’s the reason we stay as keen as mustard.

You have to be your own writer. Take heart from other people’s triumphs and a sense of gratitude when you’re not the one who chokes on the page or gets a Parcelforce delivery of rejections, but keep true to your own work. You are going to hear about amazing successes around you and that’s truly a good thing. Other people are doing it their way (you can read about some of them elsewhere on this blogsite) and sometimes it’s working out for them. You need to keep that in mind and be true to your characters and plots.

Continue to learn and develop, though, whether that’s through books, courses, other people or the feedback on your own work. There are no guarantees, no magic formulas (I know, but I prefer writing it this way) and no all-seeing judge of what is and is not literature. If you don;t like someone else’s work, just don’t buy it. Don’t waste your time sulking or bad-mouthing another writer – they have been through the same process as you – turning up, filling the pages and doing their best to make the best of them.

Respect your writing time. Don’t let it be snaffled away by social media, ‘come and join us’ invitations, creative collaborative projects or artsy endeavours. Or, if you do, remind yourself that you’re choosing to do it (that way you won’t get so pissed off about it later on).

Writers are just people with a pen. Everyday people with their foibles. Some will support your work, offer time and experience. Others will want to shoot you down in flames for daring to call yourself a writer. And even for the decent ones, their time is finite too, so try to understand if, unlike the good folk in Friends, they’re suddenly not there for you. Don’t get too attached to the status quo – it can prevent you from seeing new opportunities.

Let your writing take you on an adventure as well as the reader. I started out wanting to write a novel and enjoyed penning a gag or two. Those first steps have led me to amazing opportunities (some wondrously paid) and fabulous people. Long may it continue and long may the turns of the trail surprise me. And thanks again for the business!

Have the courage to commit to goals. In my experience, goals help you focus on what’s important to you. And even if you don’t get to the finishing line – which is usually down to not being clear on your own priorities, motivations and level of influence on the matter – you’ll still have moved forward in one direction. And hopefully learned something valuable too.

It isn’t all about money. Or readers. Or likes. Or followers. Or comments. Or reviews. They all help to keep the fires of belief and aspiration going, but none of that changes the quality of your writing. And writers write. Whatever else they’re doing or not doing, they write. Otherwise they may as well turn in their pens (and I can always use a good spare pen).

And finally, dear blog reading chums from the other side of the glass, step back regularly. Sure, your book matters. And yes, it hurts when no one sends you a contract or buys your book or even lies your 19th draft. But there’s a whole world out there filled with inspiration and challenge and enough conflict to fill a fiction workshop. Don’t let your obsession to be a writer prevent you from engaging with life. 

And don’t take any crap!

There, I’ve said my piece. Now I can get back to writing about chickens and planning a new novel. Thanks for popping over this past year and thanks to those of you who, knowingly or otherwise, have contributed to the development my writing and my character.


  1. Chloe says:

    "Writers are just people with a pen." I love that 🙂 And I love this post. My favourite advice is "have the courage to commit to goals". Committment and courage are such a massive part of "success" (however you measure it).

  2. Sandra Davies says:

    Lot of sound sense here Derek; one of my more important lessons learned (about printmaking but it applies as much to writing) is that more often than not disinterest is because what I've produced is not to everybone's taste, I recognise that no matter how well-written, if it;s about robots, or is anthropomorphic, then I wouldn't even bother to open it.

  3. you're absolutely right. i love hearing about the success of others. it just give me some umph to say i will be there soon.

  4. Derek says:

    I agree, Chloe – the journey is as much an inner one as an outer one, possibly more. Wishing you light steps towards your next writing goals!

  5. Derek says:

    Hi, Sandra – yep, we can't please everyone, but we can please ourselves to begin with! Wishing you a creative 2013.

  6. Derek says:

    Hi Tammy, I once had a friend who liked to say, "One gets better, we all get better." The key thing is that another person's success doesn't prevent our own and, like you say, can inspire us to stretch ourselves. Wishing you a successful 2013, however you define it.

  7. Deb says:

    Sound advice, as always, Derek. I particularly like your line, 'And writers write'. I would also add, don't get embrolied in online writer's forums if you want to be a serious and successful writer. You won't ever see Dean Koontz or Stephen King, or any other professional writer, waging a war of words about punctuation or grammar on an online writing forum. Have faith, learn what's commercially successful and what's not and work hard. Also, be prepared that there will be some 'friends' who will no longer want to stay in touch once you become successful!
    A very happy new year to you and Ann and may all your dreams come true for 2013. xx

  8. Derek says:

    Hi Deb, that's an interesting point about the online forums. And I'm intriguing about losing friends to success. I suppose, if writers know other writers, there are all kinds of undercurrents and hidden dynamics going on. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it! Wishing you a brill 2013 too! xx

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