What kind of writing advice would you give yourself? And I’m not talking about “write more” or “write more regularly” kind of advice, but of the truly personal, hard-hitting variety.

I recently did an exercise where I wrote down precisely that: twenty-one pieces of advice I would give myself. The first few were obvious and banal, but the point of the exercise was to stick it out until I wrote all twenty-one. The further I got, the harder it became to think of something next, but the last few I jotted down were pure gold.

Ask yourself this:

“What should I do to be a better writer?” (Or any other question, since this technique works amazingly well for all hard-to-figure problems.)

And write down twenty-one answers. This is an arbitrary number to make sure you stick around past the trivial and the obvious. Don’t get distracted. No emails, no phone, no browsing or social media. Put your phone on silent. Better yet, use old fashioned pen and paper to write this list.

Oh, and once you’re done, definitely share what you came up with. The pandemic has created a global shortage of good ideas and positive thinking. Don’t shy away from making a contribution.

My Top Answers

If you need inspiration, here are my top answers:

  • Finish when you know what happens next. When you don’t, stick around until you figure it out. Like in games. No quitting before the boss is down.
  • Never step away from work mid-way to answer messages, calls, or check the internet. Distraction is evil.
  • You spend too much time trying to figure stuff out. It eats into time that would be better spent writing. If there’s something that bothers you, write it down. Go through the list on Sunday, and do all of your overthinking then.
  • Cultivate deep work habits. Block periods of at least 90 minutes for writing novels.
  • Accept your limitations. Appreciate your skill. Pleasure in doing things comes from a sense of mastery. Write as if you were a master already, without the self-doubt of an amateur.
  • Make more of your work public.

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