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Tough Love: Tips for Writers

When I was in school, I always liked the tough professors best: the ones who did not mince their words or spare my feelings. From Mrs. Prebish sophomore year of high school to Tor Seidler in the second year of my graduate program, I most appreciated the mentors who weren’t afraid to give it to me straight. Their criticisms and advice, I still feel, have made me a better writer. 

With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to address a few questions from aspiring writers—and a few thoughts that have sprung to my mind during the writing process—in a similar, tough love way. No sugarcoating, no sensitivity. Just givin’ it to ya the way I see it.

Without further ado:


I recently exchanged emails with an acquaintance who loves to write. In our correspondence, he asked me if I have a “system” for avoiding procrastination and staying inspired (or getting the magic to happen). This is what I said:

1.) There is never any easy or convenient time to write—you have to make it a priority and give up other things if you want to pursue it as a career.

2.) If you wait for “magic,” you will never get anything accomplished. It’s work and a job just like anything else, and I guarantee that the absolute best writers will tell you the same. No one would ever finish anything if he or she sat around waiting to be inspired.

Don’t get me wrong—I love writing. That’s what makes it easier to rearrange my days around it. I and nearly every other writer I know can tell you that we make ourselves laugh and cry routinely when we’re writing new scenes. That’s why we fell in love with the craft in the first place. But it’s work. It’s hard. There are many days when inspiration just doesn’t strike. I’ve always been a big fan of making one’s own magic…through hard work. 

For the record, I recently acquired a book called Dear Scott, Dear Max: The Fitzgerald-Perkins Correspondence. Therein lies proof that even Fitzgerald needed an editor, didn’t wait for magic to hit him square in the face, and worked his butt off.

(F. Scott Fitzgerald breaking for a photo op)