6 Writing Lessons from 2020

Look. We all know what went down in the year 2020. It was a year for the books, and I don’t mean for writing them. I still haven’t finished the manuscript I’ve been working on for years now, and I’m not even the slightest bit mad. There were days in 2020–no matter how few– that I wrote things, and for that, I am incredibly proud of myself.

Despite all that happened last year and my still unfinished manuscript, 2020 was still one of my best writing years. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t mean it was one of my best wording years. V.E. Schwab talks on her Instagram about how writing doesn’t always mean adding to your word count–it can mean thinking and brainstorming and staring out a window thinking about a scene. Just because you don’t add words to a page doesn’t mean you aren’t writing and adding value to your novel.

It’s because I took this principle to heart that I had one of my best writing years. Although my manuscript still needs to be finished, I learned some really valuable lessons from last year.

1. I learned to give myself grace.
Last year was the hardest year of my life, and I’m not even talking about the pandemic. I had the craziest things happen in my life, including losing two of my grandparents and the family dog, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There was no way I could maintain a consistent writing habit amidst all the chaos, so I learned to celebrate the smallest amount of progress. I eked out tiny bits of time to write, even if it was just a sentence, and I stopped requiring the perfect environment to write–anywhere would do, including on my phone or scraps of paper during my short lunch break. Above all, I let myself rest from writing when I needed it and didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty.

2. I learned how to protect my creative energy.
For the past few years, I have made time for myself to write after work. It was a good chunk of time, too. Yet time and time again, I wrote nothing, and I would beat myself up for it. Last year, Robin LaFevers shared information about the Gold Spoon Theory and how creative energy takes gold spoons, of which we have a limited number. Suddenly, it made sense how just because I had time didn’t mean I had the creative energy to write. Since realizing this, I stopped beating myself up for not being creative when I get home from a taxing job that takes all of my gold spoons, and I started being more cognizant of how I spent those gold spoons throughout the day.

3. I learned how to outline–twice.
I’m going to be honest–I always thought I was a pantser. I pantsed my stories for years, and all that lead me to was frustration and constant rewriting as my story changed and I had to go back and scrap everything in order to fix it. When I got tired of doing that, I decided to try outlining. I teach English, so I decided that I surely know how to outline a book on my own, so I did! But then, I realized that my outline was at some places overly complicated and at others too vague to be helpful. And so I turned to Brandon Sanderson, a famous outliner who has examples of his outlines posted online as well as countless lectures, and I wrote another outline.

4. I learned to stop and fix major structural errors when they come up.
This was a really painful lesson that cost me over 30,000 words. As I mentioned, I’ve been rewriting some variation of the same story for years, and I got sick of it. I want to finish this story. So when I decided to finally sit down and discovery write my way through the plot and make an outline, I ended up having to do a major revision on my first draft. I went from close to 42,000 words at the beginning of 2020 to about 9,000. I’ve slowly worked my way back up to 33,000, and for once, I absolutely love my story. There’s still a lot of work to be done and plenty of rewriting that will happen in the second draft, but I’m crafting a first draft that I’m happy with, and that made the major word cut worth it.

5. I learned to take myself seriously as an author.
I’ve dreamed of being an author for all of my life, but for so long, it was only a dream. It was a fantasy of future what-ifs. I believed that the only way to pursue a writing career was to first actually finish a manuscript and publish a book. While that’s technically true, there is so much more to a successful writing career than publishing a book. That’s something that really sunk in last year. I don’t want to just publish books; I want writing to be my lifelong career, and the more I listened to published authors, the more I learned how much goes into a managing a writing career. So I made a change. I created an author’s website for myself, and I began investing in myself as a writer through online courses and writing books in order to sharpen my craft. In short, I learned how to take myself seriously as an author with an actual career, even if I’m not yet published.

6. I learned how being part of a writing community is invaluable.
I’m not a very social person by nature. I like being alone or with just a few close friends. I hate putting myself out there, and I hate meeting new people–the whole process is so daunting to me. Starting a professional writing Instagram was hard for me for all the aforementioned reasons, and I constantly feel insecure because I’m not as outgoing as others in the writing community. However, being part of it has grown me as a writer–just in this article alone, I’ve cited lessons I learned from three different authors I follow, and it’s so encouraging to see other writers work on their novel an go through similar struggles and ultimately to triumph.

I would never want to repeat 2020, not for a million bucks. There were so many horrible things about the year, and I don’t want to try to coat it with a silver lining. Last year sucked. Full stop. That being said, it was still a game-changing year for me and my writing career, even if only mentally. Really, a person’s mentality is half the battle, and I think the horrors of 2020 shifted something in me so that I cared just a little less about what other people thought and more about devoting time to what I truly love–and that’s writing.

So here’s a new year! May it be full of friendship, laughter, and well-written words.

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