The 12 Steps for Struggling Writers

1) We admitted we are powerless over the literary marketplace—that our writing life has become unmanageable.

When you humble yourself and admit, “I don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to writing, and what I'm doing is not working.” A lot of writing struggles occur when you’re writing to an audience of one—yourself—or you’re too paralyzed to continue because you are focused on the results—publication. The truth is we need to focus on getting better, and we need to let go of the result, because we are powerless when it comes to any literary success. The only thing we have power over is improving what we write.

2) Came to believe that working on craft could restore us to sanity.

I say this as nicely as possible: writers—myself included—are fucking nuts. They are not just insane but they are delusional. It’s one of our strengths, and the reason we’ll do something like spend years writing about imaginary friends. It’s also one of our weaknesses, because it can make us extremely egoistical. Instead of trying to improve our craft, we will write the same way over and over, expecting a different result every time. That’s insanity, and I see new and old writers do this. When we accept that we need our craft to get better, we can be restored to some degree of sanity. 

3) Made a decision to turn our writing over to the care of craft, as we understand it.

We can’t just believe that embracing craft will make us better writers; we have to decide to improve our craft. That means taking actions. We start reading not just for pleasure, but to study what works and what doesn’t. We look into ways we can improve, whether it is taking a class, joining a workshop, finding an editor, reading a craft book, or working with beta readers. Whatever you decide, you begin building your writing muscles.    

We are writing for ourselves but we are writing for fans we haven’t even met yet.

4) Made a searching and fearless critique of our writing.

Go through your unpublished or unpolished work. Turn on word tracking and make notes about your work. Be brutally honest. Look at everything that could be better. Judge the sentences, the structure, and the voice, and tell yourself where you need to improve. 

5) Admitted to ourselves, an editor/beta reader/agent, the exact nature of our literary struggles.

I’ve mentioned in previous LitReactor articles that we need outside eyes. We can look at our own shortcomings forever, but it takes another person to not only help us understand them, but show us how we can fix them. A mentor, an agent, an editor, a fellow writer, beta reader—you've got to find someone you can trust, to share your struggles on the page with, someone who can guide you on how to improve.

6) We’re entirely ready to improve our craft and get better.

We aren’t just ready to improve our craft and get better—we are now committed. We aren’t going to rest on our laurels when we think we are good enough. We are going to keep striving to improve. Our decision is now a commitment. 

7) We humbly ask for help to improve our craft.

We keep doing what we did in step 5, but now we are building a network of people who can help us get better at our craft. We are no longer writing by ourselves, we are submitting and reaching out to editors. We are humbled and aware that becoming a great writer is very hard work and failure is an inherent part of the process. 

8) Made a list of writers we think are great and study why they are great.

We write down our favorite writers and re-read them, studying what makes them incredible. We look at the language, the style, the pacing, the characters, and structure, and examine why we are fans of the writer and what we can learn from them to apply to our own writing.

9) Make direct amends to our readers by striving to write a better book/story than we have written before.

We are writing for ourselves but we are writing for fans we haven’t even met yet.

10) We continued to take personal inventory to see where we can improve as authors.

It’s a daily practice. Take breaks—there is more to life than writing (like living!), but we have a routine and practice that has us improving our craft. 

11) Sought through reading and revision to improve our conscious contact with our Muse, as we understand It, seeking only knowledge of her will for us and the power and craft to carry that out. 

The more we write and practice craft, the better we get and the stronger we hear our Muse. We learn what stories we have to tell and need to tell. We start having a deeper faith in the process.

12) Having had a literary awakening as the results of these steps, we try to carry this message to other struggling writers and to practice these principles in all of our future work.

Give it back. Pay it forward. Help other writers.

Christoph Paul

Column by Christoph Paul

Christoph Paul is an award-winning humor author. He writes non-fiction, YA, Bizarro, horror, and poetry including: The Passion of the Christoph, Great White House Volume 1 and Volume 2, Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks, and Horror Film Poems. He is an editor for CLASH Media and CLASH Books and edited the anthologies Walk Hand in Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired by True Detective and This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck With: A Wu-Tang Tribute Anthology. Under the pen name Mandy De Sandra, he writes Bizarro Erotica that has been covered in VICE, Huffington Post, Jezebel, and AV Club. He is represented by Veronica Park at the Corvisiero Literary Agency.

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