As a child writing has always been drilled into me as important, even though I initially didn’t feel that way. When I was growing up, my parents wrote (business plans, short stories, poems, etc.), and so I was exposed to the idea of writing which propelled my journey into creating my first draft screenplay draft.
I learned a lot about writing from my parents, but I learned more by how they lived their lives.
Here are 5 lessons they taught me that bled into my writing.
Lesson# 1 “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
This quote from my dad sums up the most important thing I’ve learned about life: you should always have a backup plan. Always have another creation or idea brewing behind the “failsafe” or sure thing you think you are creating.
I was born a few years before my father actually retired from the Army (he was an officer in the 101st Airborne Division) and he always encouraged me to be independent and self-sufficient and independent of my parents. When I was around nine, he started telling me this great life lesson which has stuck with me since. It might be for a new book, film or television show. It might be for a friend who needs your help with a project of his or her own. But always be creating something else; because if you can’t follow through on the creation in front of you, then the second plan is what will save you. This quote holds true in every aspect of my life. I am constantly creating and thinking up ideas.
Lesson #2: Work Hard, But Don’t Work Too Hard
Here are the things your parents told you about writing:
Don’t just write the first draft; edit, edit and edit some more! The first draft is not always the best one – there will be many improvements between when you start and finish (if)
Never throw away an idea until it has been completely explored by all of its potential users – either via internal testing with other developers or through real-world testing with external users 9: Never throw away an idea until after all of its potential market stakeholders have had a chance at using it 10: Never throw away an idea unless its value has been put into action by all of its potential users 11: never bow down before any authority except yourself 12
Lesson #3: You Can’t Rush Passion
A lot of people are intimidated by the idea of writing a book and it’s something that needs to be approached with a certain amount of caution.
We’ve also had a number of “how-to” books come out recently that have been quite helpful, such as this one (which I recommend): The Writer’s Guide to Becoming a Successful Self-Publisher.
I’ve been making a point over the past few months of bringing my own perspective to these kinds of books and I think there is something very interesting about this approach — which is why I think it’s worth revisiting in more detail.
The first thing that strikes me is how much emphasis books (and writing) get in our culture and how many people take themselves very seriously as a result. We are often told how much learning we need to do before we can best ourselves, or how we need to polish our work before we can show anyone else what we can do (this is all true; you will actually learn new things when you write your first book — it will always be substantially better than anything learned in a book).
It goes beyond this, however, into the realm of self-image: the idea that some people want to be writers because they want to be published because they want to be famous. Some people would rather have their work on display than in print; others would rather give their work away for free than sell it for money (though obviously this depends on your beliefs about what you consider “good value for money”).
This leads us into the initial lesson #3: You Can’t Rush Passion. Passion isn’t about being driven or motivated by some sort of rush toward success — it’s about having an intrinsic desire for something and wanting to work on that thing without getting distracted by other things (even if those distractions might indirectly lead you toward success).
So, if you are going to write a book, make sure that whatever you write has passion behind it: You don’t need money or fame or attention from publishers — just an inkling at least.
I once worked with someone who was told he should wait until he was 35 years old before he started his second book because since he had already written his first book there was no rush required. He wasn’t wrong; his second book didn’t come out till many years later — but even then he had serious reservations about whether he had something to actually say. When passion strikes, and you get a great idea, ride the ride from your muse.
Lesson#4: There’s No Substitute for Hard Work
You may have heard of The Great American Novel, the story of a young American who refuses to take life’s sacrifices lying down and instead goes after his dream. It’s a story that is all too familiar to many. In his first book, The Productivity Project, authors James Clear and David Allen describe the moment they realized that they had been working on a very different kind of book: “[…] we were working on our second book, which would be more like fiction. We decided that we would use our real names; that we would not use pseudonyms; and that we would not publish it under any pen name. […] We published it under our real names. We never listed it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or anywhere else for that matter” (p.65). They are both strategic titans in their respective fields when it comes to being able to write well and quickly — but in an industry dominated by workaholics and procrastinators, they needed a way to make authoring their books easier and faster than ever before. That’s why they went with a pen name (in case someone thought their real names might be valuable).
I have often wondered what career advice my parents would give me if I asked them now: “What do you think about hiring someone else to write your book?” They wouldn’t really answer this question because they are not at all sure what I think about it, but if I had asked them right now, I am sure they would say something along the lines of: “Sure that’s easier to hire someone, but will the book be something you actually want to read? Or would it be another fast food book, all crap no filler!” (or something similar).
Lesson #5: If You Can’t Make a Change, Accept it
If you’ve been writing for long enough, you might have heard someone say, “that’s not a good idea!” or “I don’t know what I would do with my life if I changed that!”. This is how many people respond to the decision to make a change in a career, either due to the fear of loss of their job, the fear of losing their family, or simply the fear of making a mistake.
These are all valid concerns and we shouldn’t shy away from them. But we should be able to take them into account and learn from them.
The most important habit you can develop as an aspiring writer is this: accept and learn from your mistakes. This was a lesson taught to me by my mother when I was in elementary school. I remember arguing with her that mistakes were bad and should be avoided at all costs. She patiently explained to me that mistakes are just another name for learning opportunities. Don’t get discouraged if your first draft of a novel is terrible. Don’t beat yourself up over grammatical errors or misspelled words. It’s okay. Just learn from what you did wrong, make corrections and move on. Even when you’re a seasoned writer, you will make mistakes.
For this reason alone it’s worth learning from mistakes made in other forms of creative work: because if you can learn from your mistakes as an author then you can also learn from your mistakes in journalism or film/television production — which will help you improve as a writer even though they aren’t exactly similar jobs.
So think back over your career—how have your parents or people you looked up to influence the directions of your choices? How have they impacted how you think and tackle the world? The choices you make don’t have to come from a place of fear. They can be a manifestation of your dreams and desires. It’s not just about the lifestyle you want; it’s also about who you want to be as a person.
The choices we make are reflections of our hopes, dreams, and aspirations.