Monday, November 18, 2013

Writing Advice: Be Like a Baby

I don't offer writing advice very often, and when I do it's simple: read a lot and write a lot. But it's a question that comes up in almost every interview. What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?

So I decided I'd better come up with something exciting to say next time. I'm going to try it out here and you can tell me if I'm full of crap or not. Here's my big writing advice:

Be like a baby.

I'm not saying you should cry, need constant attention, or lose control of your bladder. This is how I mean it. Have you ever watched a baby learn how to walk? First, there's the stage of trying whatever they can to pull themselves to their feet. They grab, they cling, they push. Once they can do that, when they feel solid enough, they attempt a step. They'll probably fall, but they don't mind. Most likely, their plop to the floor will make them laugh. They'll fall on their butts countless times (or sometimes the other way, to hands and knees.)

It's serious business--hey, we all have to walk. It's a genetic imperative. But to them, it's mostly a game, the sheer joy of using their little bodies. It's part of their play. Babies learn by playing, and by seeing others walk, and with the patient support of their parents, but not by anyone teaching them to walk. This is something they have to figure out from the inside. How does that individual child gain control of his muscles? How does that unique feedback loop -- her brain to her limbs -- get created? No one else can do that for a baby.

Sure, sometimes they get frustrated. But mostly, it's a matter of sheer, relentless determination that finally gets them walking. They keep trying and trying, over and over again, without ever doubting that it's possible. Without second-guessing, without feeling that they're unworthy of walking, without worrying if someone else is walking sooner or better or faster. (Parents might worry about that, but that's another story.) Babies don't compare or compete or judge or blame or worry. They just keep at it, again and again, until they get it.

And, most importantly, they have fun while they're doing it. FUN. Let's not forget that part.

To be like a baby in our writing sounds simple, right? Keep at it and have fun. Simple, yet so difficult, because we're now in the adult world with all its complications. We tend to be smothered with doubt and self-criticism and fear and anxiety; or sometimes arrogance, ego or pride can get in our way. 

But if we can think of that baby we used to be, the joyful, cheerful, determined little being who kept trying and laughing and plopping onto its butt ... we can't lose. Along the writing road, many things can take away the joy you find in writing. Don't let it happen! Guard that joy with everything you have. It's the beating heart of your writing. As for persistence, studies show that more than any other quality (talent, intelligence, skill) persistence is the best predictor of success.You have to keep trying, over and over, just like that baby.

Be like a baby, joyfully persistent.

So there it is, my newly unveiled writing advice. What do you think? Does this image work for you?


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Beautiful, and so true. Yes, you can use this next time you get that question.

  3. Very true and very inspiring. If only I could put it into practice....

    1. I know, right? It always sounds so easy to give advice. The hard part is the doing. Good luck to you, Rajeev!

  4. This is great advice Jen! They should get you over at NaNoWriMo. Thanks for the boost!