7 Writing Lessons Learned in 2020

Happy New Year!

For me, the turning of the year is certainly a time of examining habits, renewing intentions, and creating plans. But more than setting goals for the coming year, I prefer to think about the lessons I have learned from the year that has passed.

In my experience, goals all but just happen when their required foundations are in place. When that foundation is lacking, then even a great amount of energy and application cannot achieve the desired result. And so when the New Year rolls around, I like to look back at the foundations that have been laid in the past twelve months. What has the year taught me? And how can I build on what I have been given?

This past year was a year like no other. This is clearly true on a global level, and I daresay it is true for each of us in small and subjective ways. Certainly, it has been true for me. Aside from all the big impacts to the world “out there,” my own year and particularly my year as a writer has also been a year like no other. Even in comparison to other recent years, it was a year that deeply challenged almost all the beliefs and identities I have carried around my writing.

It was not a year of deep productivity in an external sense. It was probably the year in which I wrote less fiction than I ever have since my pre-teen years. Largely due to this, it was an unsettling year for me as a writer. It has made me ask questions and face fears.

In many ways, for obvious reasons, it was one of the hardest years ever. But also in many ways, for me personally, I am surprised that it has given me some of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Most of the reason I can say that is directly related to the lessons this past year has taught me about myself as a person and as a writer.

Today, I would like to share seven of the writing lessons I feel I learned (or at least started learning) in 2020, in hopes that they will inspire, ground, and encourage you in contemplating your own foundation for moving forward into the wide new frontier of 2021.

7 Writing Lessons to Build On in the New Year

1. Don’t Be So Serious (Play More)

Don’t take life so serious…. It ain’t no how permanent.–Walt Kelly

When did writing become such super-serious business? I look back on general advice I internalized as a young writer starting out, and while I recognize that it helped me build a career, I also realize that such gems as the following also created a pretty grim outlook:

“Treat writing like a job.”

“If you don’t take your writing seriously, no one else will either.”

“If writing doesn’t pay, it’s not worth doing.”

“If you aren’t writing something readers will love, you’re not a real writer.”

I’m not saying there isn’t a measure of truth and value in those statements. But where’s the fun? Where’s the joy of creation for creation’s sake? After all, storytelling is an inherently childlike act. Entertainment is all about having fun.

Mostly, I recognize that this super-serious outlook has less to do with my writing and more to do with me as a grown-up human grappling with what admittedly seems a pretty serious world. In this year when I wrote almost no fiction, I have realized that if my writing doesn’t seem as much fun as it used to, it’s because the act of telling stories has grown separate from the simple joy of creation that prompted it when I was young.

Building on the Lesson: And so I plan to play more in 2021. More “artist’s dates” with my inner child such as Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way. No more sitting at the desk and demanding I write something about which I have little enthusiasm. No more self-flagellation for not writing. Writing, as we all know deep down and as Jeff VanderMeer points out (in this wonderful article which one of you shared in the comments section of the post “What Is Dreamzoning? (7 Steps to Finding New Story Ideas)“) is far more about not writing that it is the actual writing.

2. Remember Why You’re Here (How It All Started)

That brings me back to the reason I started writing in the first place. What was yours? Do you remember?

I think I rather lost mine for a while, amidst all the very serious work of becoming a capital-letter Writer. But here’s my reason—here’s why I’m here, talking to you, writing this blog every week—here’s why I’ve spent the better part of my life typing away at the keyboard, why I’ve published five novels and why any of this matters to me at all.

I didn’t start out as a writer. I started out as a kid who loved to tell and play stories. At a certain point I decided I would write one down—because I loved it and its characters so much that I didn’t ever want to forget it. I started writing because of the way it made me feel—like there was a infinite world of possibilities out there.

In short, I don’t write because I’m a writer or even because I love writing (although I do). I write because I love my stories so much I want never to forget them.

Building on the Lesson: Maybe I will never find that same childlike passion again. Maybe adults must write for other reasons. But I don’t really believe that. At any rate, I’m committed to giving myself a chance to find that again—to find another story I love so much I must write it down if only so I will never forget it. In practicality, I think there are two steps to this.

One, I must learn to listen again. And two, I must be willing not to write, not to keep flogging the brain. I think that is perhaps the scariest thing of all. Indeed, even as I write this, there is a part of me that isn’t sure I can consciously commit to not at least trying to write for a while. But the very fact that it scares the spit out of me tells me it’s probably exactly the right step forward.

3. Find Your Inspiration (What Do You Want to Say?)

I’ve spent a lot of time in the dreamzone so far this winter, trying to see if there is a story ready to be written. What I’ve realized is that part of what I’m searching for is something new to say. I used to believe we each have one story to tell and we just go on telling it in different ways all our lives. I still think there’s truth to that, but I’m also coming to realize that perhaps I have finished telling the story I was given to tell in the First Act of my life. Now, as I enter the Second Act, I am too different a person. Much as I love the early stories, they are stories that belong to my younger self, not the Me that now is.

This is both frightening and exciting, since I don’t yet know what story I have to tell in this new chapter of my life. I know I have things to say. I can feel them all but bursting inside of me: I just don’t know what they are yet.

Building on the Lesson: This, too, goes back to listening. I often think of Jo March’s statement in the 1994 adaptation of Little Women:

I want to do something different. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m on the watch for it.

I foretell that one of the greatest challenges of this coming year will be, for me, sitting still, keeping my mouth shut, listening, and waiting. What is it I want to say in a new story? I don’t know yet. But I have always believed that if you know the question, you know the answer. At least I have the question now.

4. Keep Perspective (Writing Was Always Hard)

Somewhere within the last few years, I got this unspoken, mostly subconscious idea that writing wasn’t supposed to be hard. Sure, it required discipline. But agony, doubt, wasted hours, writer’s block? Nah.

It just so happened 2020 was the year in which I decided to re-read all my old journals, starting from when was I was thirteen. It’s a chronicle of all my writing years. And mostly it’s a chronicle of how hard writing has always been. I started and failed on so many more stories than I remembered. I took looooong breaks in between finished novels because I had no idea what to write.

In short, none of this is new. It’s been a welcome, humbling, and slightly humorous return to perspective.

Building on the Lesson: One of the great values in writing a journal (or a blog) is that we can return to remember insights from our former selves which we may have lost track of. So this year I will continue journaling, and I will continue reading my old journals—as letters from my much wiser younger self to my sometimes short-sighted current self. :p

5. Nothing Is Ever Wasted (Unexpected Gifts)

Like so many of us in our fast-moving society, I have a tendency to judge the value of my time based on what I accomplished. To finish a year without moving the needle on a work-in-progress is frustrating. But aside from the unseen productivity of lessons learned, I can also see how true it is that nothing is ever wasted.

I didn’t break through my writer’s block this year or finish my outline. But then I remember that in wrangling with that writer’s block this year and trying to figure out how to fix my story, I spent a great deal of time learning about and working with archetypal character arcs. I may not have gotten what I wanted—a Scrivener file full of outline notes for a novel—but I did get a Scrivener file full of outline notes for a new blog series that will perhaps eventually become a book in its own right. (Stay tuned for more on that in the upcoming weeks.)

Building on the Lesson: Really, this is exactly why I rather dislike goals. They tend to fixate us (me anyway) too much on one specific outcome—and if we don’t achieve that outcome, well then, what was the point?

What is true, I think, is that when we show up at the desk and put in the work, something always happens. It may not be what we expected. It may not even be tangible. But nothing is ever wasted.

6. Being a Writer Doesn’t Always Mean Writing (Word Count, Schmurd Count)

Speaking of narrow perspectives, it has come home to me more this year than any year that I have an extremely narrow definition of what it means to be a “writer.” When I talk about “my writing” or “writing time,” I am always talking about writing fiction. Only fiction. And only writing (i.e., not organizing notes, not daydreaming, not proofreading).

This was something the pandemic helped me recognize pretty early on last year when I wrote the post “15 Productive Tasks You Can Still Do Even When You Don’t Feel Like Writing.” More than that, I’ve realized how my fiction block these last few years has rather led me to discount the fact that I have been steadily writing all along—every week on this blog and that, indeed, I did publish a book this year.

Building on the Lesson: I have been so identified as a “writer” for so long that any threat to that identity is disturbing. But even more than realizing that I can be a “writer” in many different ways, I realize I must also be willing to broaden my definition of myself. I am not “a writer”; writing is just one of many ways in which I express myself and my creativity.

7. Be Present (You Can’t Repeat the Past or Plan the Future)

If there’s one thing 2020 has taught us it is that everything can change by the time you get to the end of the toilet paper roll. 2020 was what I think of as a “shatterpoint”: the world will never go back to the way it was before. Ironically, this proof of how irrevocably we are always divided from the past makes it more obvious that we cannot ever truly rely on future plans.

This offers a great deal of significance in so many areas of life, but in regards to my own struggles as a writer this year, it offers the reminder that the only thing I can do is be present. However much I may wish it, I can never return to or truly repeat the magic of my childhood relationship to stories. Nor can I decide what my future as a writer will be and demand that my creativity follow suit. I can only be present with what is and try to be as honest as possible in my perception of it.

Building on the Lesson: Really, it is about relinquishing control. Letting go of the past and letting go of the future. I sincerely doubt am totally positive I will not master that one this year. But in between the grief of letting go of the way things used to be and the yearning that the future should be all that we wish it, there is a centerpoint of peace to be found here in the present.

…all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.—Julian of Norwich

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What lessons did you learn as a writer from the adventures of 2020? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Word count, schmurd count, I’m going to remember that one. Happy New Year!

  2. Hey K.M.
    Happy New Year.
    Well, in spite of all the chaos of 2020 I did manage to self-publish my first book although it was only a novella and setup an author website. I did learn, however, that a Christmas bazaar is probably not a good venue for trying to sell your book even if your table is next to a woman selling chocolates. 🙂
    Your comment on Scrivener notes struck a chord. For my latest project that has been in the works for 10+ years I have 50 files of research/notes in Scrivener but I’ll bet you have me beat.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s great. Huge congrats, Bob! And, no, I think 50 files beats even me. 😉

    • congratulations on your”small” successes. I’m still working on my website, a goal for this year. I hear novellas sell well in Europe too no “only a novella.” It is a good success.

  3. Great points as always! One lesson I began learning this year in my creative life was to let go of my expectations for how a creative project SHOULD look or feel and gratefully accept “what is.” Relaxing into that reality was much more engaging, reduced personal resistance and frustration, and allowed me to be more emotionally present to what was unfolding in the moment.

  4. Eric Troyer says

    Thanks for sharing, Katie. You approach New Year’s “goals/resolutions” the same way I do. I haven’t yet looked back on the old year and mused about the one ahead, but I will do that soon. I appreciate hearing how it went for you.

  5. Usvaldo de Leon says

    To your point on the agony of writing. I recall an episode of Original Star Trek where Bones was called upon to reattach Spock’s brain. Bones had been given some sort of drug and the surgery was child’s play. Then halfway through the drug wore off and he began to panic. What in the world am I doing? This is impossible!

    There’s a metaphor in there for the writing process, lol.

    Happy new year!

  6. Louis Schlesinger says

    I hope you and yours enjoyed your holidays.

    Here’s to a collectively brighter new year than that behemoth looming in our rear view mirror. Your list went well with my coffee as I look ahead.

    Thank you especially for Lesson #1.

  7. Happy new year 🙂

    Thank you for pointing out that writing doesn’t have to be so serious. In Norway we are all about the dreadful realism, if you want to be in the club, you have to write properly. Pretty sure my 5 book series about hitmen, hitmen turned good, mafia, trafficking, a group called the Lobbyist ( that secretly rules Europe), weapon smuggling and what not is not going to be receiving prices any time soon. But what do I care, I am enjoying my self immensely. And that is the most important, great storys come from having fun, at least it is that way for me.

    Keep ut the good work, your posts are always to the point!

  8. One lesson I learned is that it’s just as hard to write the middle of a book series as the middle of a single story, even harder actually because you have to connect it to the previous first book. Another is that I’m a terrible procrastinator at times. If I used my time my wisely, I probably would’ve been better prepared for NaNoWriMo, and maybe would’ve actually finished the first draft of the second book in my trilogy series by now. But with everything that happened, I think a lot of writers were in a ” creative slump” last year, so you weren’t alone.

  9. I love these! Made me smile, and all so true. I need to remember the “don’t be so serious” one… Thank you and Happy New Year!

  10. Thank you for sharing this.
    My husband and I are writers and have found ourselves disillusioned by the world of ‘Writing” with a capital W. The industry, agent hunt, algorithms, key words, fitting into a box that is undefined and always changing drives us both crazy.
    We’re both former journalists and love creating magic or mayhem with the 26 letters of the alphabet. We’ve also both published books (self-published, mostly) and have been extremely disappointed in not making as many sales as we’d like and having to plug away eight hours a day promoting the darned things with very little reward.
    Your article was refreshing and encouraging. We write because we love the craft and we should not focus on the outcome or we’d never write another word.
    I’ve been asked by several people to write a sequel to my first novel (published two months ago) but I don’t know if I want to go through the angst of doing it. So perhaps I’ll try to look at it more as you describe: have fun with it, enjoy making up stories, and be here now. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Creating magic or mayhem with the 26 letters of the alphabet.”

      Sounds like a good tagline to me. 🙂

  11. Last year was the year I started tracking sales of my short stories, a category all the experts say is a hard sell. While I would have preferred to see higher numbers than I did, I was pleased every time someone took a chance on my writing. While I would have preferred more of those readers leave reviews, at least I did not get bad reviews. Self-publishing short stories, especially in the Speculative Fiction and Western genres, is always a crap-shoot, and I’m satisfied with the lessons I learned from my experiment.

    One of the other things I learned last year is just how difficult it is to make new connections with new readers. I also dabbled a little more in flash fiction and even sent a couple of pieces out to flash fiction magazines.

    I also invested more in learning my craft. The past year saw me dedicate more time and focus on becoming a better writer. I reached out into the professional law-enforcement world and made connections with folks who answered so many questions about forensics, the law-enforcement world in general and how things were done in law-enforcement here in Canada. Because I want to be sure that I’ve done all I could to write my made-up worlds with as much accuracy as I can.

    I also submitted my mystery novel to a publisher. It was very politely declined and so I’ve been working on strengthening, adding layers and elements I thought of after it had left my hands (as is always the way) and just generally trying to make it stronger.

    To my way of thinking, 2020 was the year of lessons. Not as successful as I’d hoped, but definitely not a failure either.

  12. Yes to all of that! One thing I realized, about two months ago, was that even “artists dates” were getting more complicated once the cold weather set in. I used to go to art stores, regular stores, museums, even coffee shops just to observe — and enjoy the wonderful weirdness of human beings. I color with pencils some, but if you come up with other ideas, write them in your blog!

  13. Due to a lot of personal issues that occurred in concurrence with the pandemic, I’ve learned that the vision I had of myself in my mind (stable, panster, part-time writer) could – and should – change. I’m moving into 2021 trying the new (for me at least) in my writing…full time for one thing, with an outline for another 🙂

    Love your list – particularly the bit about perspective and what being a writer means outside word count!

    Happy New Year to you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I’m realizing that most of my identities are also more fluid than I’d taken for granted.

  14. Seven great lessons. Good to be reminded of these, especially that writers are first and foremost storytellers. Thanks.

    Chris

  15. Happy New Year, Katie!

    The biggest lesson for me in 2020 was that my lack of self-compassion is crushing my ability to write forward in my projects. As such, I’m focusing on meditation specifically focused on fighting against my inner critic. I purchased Dr. Kristin Neff’s Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook (A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength and survive). I’m also doing the 10 Percent Happier New Year meditation challenge focused on self-compassion.

    I believe more writing will be a pleasant side-effect of this hard, interior work.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree with all of this! I’ve been working on similar things in the last few years and have seen them bear a lot of fruit.

  16. Biggest lesson was that the thrill in writing is being surprised by what you write and how what you didn’t intend to write gets written anyway. 🙂 Very mysterious.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Isn’t though? And then when you start foreshadowing story events you didn’t even know were going to happen–it’s wild!

  17. Busy Izzie says

    My sister says I need to stop being so serious. She’s right! Lol! When I started college in August 2020, I found myself loving strict goals to finish assignments on time with a grade I considered perfect. I did it all very seriously. Now, I’m on winter break so I have to make my own goals. This serious mindset hasn’t transferred so well to my writing goals. These lessons you’ve shared are great reminders for me to remember to stop being overly serious, play more, and that nothing has been wasted even if I don’t see enough “accomplishments.” This article was perfect timing for me, since I’ve been pushing myself on several goals that haven’t gone the way I wanted.

    One of the lessons I’ve learned in 2020 is that if something frustrates me or I become snappy, I need to take a break and pray. When I come back to my project, I’m much calmer and come up with the ideas that I needed. The second lesson I’ve learned is that I need to relax and stop worrying. I’ve been training myself to give an irritating situation over to the Lord automatically, since worrying doesn’t do any good.

    Thank you for another helpful post. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Love your screen name!

    • Which sister? Wouldn’t be me would it? Lol

      I’m surprised to find you commented… and even more surprised to find you think I’m right -assuming u were talking about what I said.

      Glad to see you’re following my advice, little sis. Checking out K.M.’s site and also mentioning moi! 😉

  18. Sophia-Maria says

    Hello K.M!

    Happy New Year! I totally loved this podcast and it has really helped me put into perspective lots of things that happened in my life in 2020. I realized that all I want to do is spend time on my craft and develop my ideas into stories and with your podcasts and books, I’ve managed to come up with lots of ideas, finish a first draft, and use ywriter for outlining. I’ve tried to redirect my life, my energy and set new priorities and this is reflected in the consistent writing schedule I’m trying to stick to day in day out.

    This podcast was fun to listen to and how important is the “don’t be so serious” idea!

    Can’t wait to hear your second podcast for 2021!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s great! I think 2020 was a “reset” year for many of us, in many different ways. It didn’t go how we planned, but I think it may help us bear even better fruit down the road.

  19. You certainly did not slack in ‘helping writers become authors’ this year. Thank you for the continued generosity of sharing your knowledge. Falling into the rabbit hole of your website is the only procrastination that I do not feel guilty about.

    I began to free write by hand one page every morning and that has really helped move my novel along. There’s something about writing by hand that frees a control freak personality (a little bit). NanoWrimo was also a brilliant exercise that set up a new standard in efficiency.

    Take your time finding the next story. I always felt I could sniff out the stories/films that were written for the sake of writing versus the ones that found the hand of a writer to take form. Being still and observing the world, listening to your heart and one day you will hear it calling to you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      So glad you’re enjoying the site! And I totally agree about writing by hand. It’s a different neural experience than is typing.

  20. Jennifer Porter says

    I love your articles! They have been SO helpful to me on my journey as a writer. This one was a very helpful model/reminder of the value of a good reflective process. I, too, did not accomplish what I set out to do in 2020, and had identity struggles based on the loss of ability to be who I was before.

    There is a definite pull toward looking at 2020 as a disappointment with few redeeming qualities. For me, the year was definitely disappointing regarding my ability to make progress toward the goals I had set. My 7th concussion kept me off work, and unable to do much screen time and writing (or many other things!), for all of 2020. Moreover, it was a sudden and calamitous end to my identity in teaching in my Field of Dreams (I’ve been a teacher of students with autism and related disorders for 11 years but will no longer be able or allowed to continue in that field due to my injury). I ended the year getting Covid, from which I am still recovering.

    Because of Covid, in the last two days I think I am losing my sense of smell, and I discovered that it could be a permanent side effect. Living without the sense of smell also affects my sense of taste…and I didn’t realize before yesterday exactly how many experiences in my life, how many emotions, were tied to my sense of smell. I pray that it comes back for me as I recover! I want to smell my third grandbaby’s head when I hold her for the first time. I want to smell my cooking so that I know when it has the right amount of spice and is done. I want to smell the crisp ice of winter, spring rain in the air, summer toasting the grass, fireplaces in fall! I want to know when my dog is stinky, my house is stinky (or fresh)…when I smell like sweat…and when the smell of my shower soap has brought cleanliness back. (It is amazing how unclean and unrefreshed I felt after a shower in which I could not smell the soap!)

    I worry about not being able to smell gas leaks, smoke, etc. in my house…but even more, if you can believe it, I worry that I won’t be able to write effectively from my memory of what things smelled like.

    But I have also learned some lessons more thoroughly than I had before…patience, and trusting in God’s plan and timing, among them. No event in my life, resulting from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, making a stupid choice, or other, has ever failed to change and enrich me in some way.

    I got to reconnect with my kids and husband this year, I got a better focus on what really matters in my life, and I think I have a better idea of where God is leading me, though His timing is still unclear. Your article has reminded me to be silent…to be present in my life…to listen…to journal my reflections…and to prepare for the moment.

    I want to look back on this coming year knowing that I spent each day being the best ‘me’ I could be—as a writer, mom, wife, daughter, granddaughter, teacher, elder, service provider, and parent advocate—by embracing and living in the peace of my true identity as a child of God.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thank you so much for sharing this.

      How beautiful this is:

      “But I have also learned some lessons more thoroughly than I had before…patience, and trusting in God’s plan and timing, among them. No event in my life, resulting from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, making a stupid choice, or other, has ever failed to change and enrich me in some way.”

      Wishing you all the best in your recoveries!

  21. Kathy Crabtree says

    Thanks so much for some much needed insight. I’m working really hard on accepting that things will never be the same- the pandemic brought a clear focus to that notion but your quote-
    “ …in between the grief of letting go of the way things used to be and the yearning that the future should be all that we wish it, there is a centerpoint of peace to be found here in the present” will become my mantra for my uncertain future.

    I’m trying to let go of the grief (or at least wade through it) watching the loses my husband of 46 years is experiencing as he battles a terminal metastatic Cancer.

    Accepting that the future will be what it will be- living our best life in the present is the only weapon we have to fight the fear of the future.
    I will post your quote where I will see it every morning- again thank.
    Take care
    Kathy

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      So sorry to hear about your husband. Lots of love and compassion! And thank you so much for sharing these beautifully vulnerable thoughts.

  22. Happy new year Katie!

    First, I want to see I respect how self-aware and reflective you are. You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into the underlying meaning of your vocation. You have some great suggestion for anyone here, and I salute your personal courage in writing such an honest column.

    For several months now, I’ve been walking a ledge. I can admit to myself that writing is a hobby, and there would be nothing wrong with that, but with that admission would come a change in personal priorities which frankly scares me. Or I can push through, write and publish, and take what that brings. Pushing through is work. I have a full time job, but right now I’m consistently finding time almost every day and 10+ hours a week. My current novel, has been in process for a couple of years. I have three trunk novels, that stopped in the editing and revision stage as I found myself interested in other ideas.

    I don’t know if I’m unique in this or not, but I enjoy almost every minute I spend writing and editing, though it does wear me out after a few hours. I’d answer “treat writing as a job” with “do the thing you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I’d also answer that I’ve had a 40+ year career, and my best work has been when I’m loving it, and not just getting the paycheck or even the colleagues, but also the day in, day out work itself.

    When writing does weigh on me, is when I’m not writing. That’s when “oh my lord, I have another fifteen chapters to draft and then all the revision” and “how can I put all this time into this?” type of thoughts perch in my mind.

    Katie, for you this is your vocation. It needs to be both serious and fun and there is no conflict between the two. For me, this year I need to find out what I’ve got.

    Thank you again for another ladle full of wisdom.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds to me like you’re asking all the right questions. I’m sure the right answers will follow. Happy New Year!

    • Peter Linton says

      TAC ~
      .
      Your comment is totally me…!
      .
      Well, no, that’s impossible, but I connect a WHOLE (emphasis) lot with the it’s-a-hobby-thing-that-took-on-a-life-of-its-own narrative. AND, I dare say (now KM, my spell check dings ‘daresay’) I get it with having a time conflict with a FT pay job. Then the couple years working on a novel idea and then a couple sequels “weighing on you”–check, double check.
      .
      So In many respects, you’re not unique in so far as I see it. TY for your comment.
      .
      ~ P

  23. Happy New Year, Katie!

    Thank you for sharing your insights on the lessons that you learned last year. Your posts always provide food for thought and this one is no different.

    A number of things came to me as I watched the world change in 2020. The world is currently a science experiment. Some things will work, some things won’t. I’ve lost my patience for sensationalism in journalism. To the point where I am no longer a news junkie. Anything that’s truly important will find its way into my world.

    I’ve spent the last year editing my first novel and in doing that, my craft has improved tremendously. While I am disappointed that it is not yet published, I am more confident in being able to craft this story. Hopefully, others will like it as much as I do. The lesson is that it will take as long as it takes.

    There are many other lessons that I could list. I won’t detail them all. The last one that I want to share is that I have learned to step away when the inspiration leaves. My body/mind is telling me I need to rest and to trust the process. Over and over again, the writing craft matured during that break. I no longer berate myself for taking the break.

    I hope 2021 turns out to be a stupendous year for everyone.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “There are many other lessons that I could list. I won’t detail them all. The last one that I want to share is that I have learned to step away when the inspiration leaves. My body/mind is telling me I need to rest and to trust the process. Over and over again, the writing craft matured during that break. I no longer berate myself for taking the break.”

      In all honestly, I’m still working on this! :p

  24. Colleen Janik says

    Happy New Year! Thank you for such an insightful post to start out our new year. I have to say that looking forward to your posts every Monday became the one thing I felt that I could count on in life.
    HOWEVER if in 2021 you feel completely inspired and can’t tear yourself away from your current novel, you HAVE MY PERMISSION to take these Mondays off and we can just survive be rereading your old posts and your novels. I have a copy of Dreamlander coming in the mail and I’m so looking forward to reading that.
    My favorite quote from this post was, “I write because I love my stories so much I never want to forget them,” That is SO GREAT. We need to love our own stories!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Aw, this makes my day on a number of levels. 🙂 Thank you very much for the permission, but as a matter of fact this year is the first year in my life when I’ve steadily written blog posts ahead of schedule. So far I have enough saved to last me through May. So we’re good at least until then. 😉

  25. Kelly L Clark says

    My biggest takeaways from 2020?
    -What other people think doesn’t matter; do/write what you love anyways.
    -Reconnect with yourself often. Often writer’s block stems from something that you are frustrated with in your life- so learn to heal.

  26. These lessons are great reminders, as are the equally important ideas of building on lessons. December is when I tend to go into hibernation for about six weeks, my own reboot, time to reset and allow. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Naomi Musch says

    Fabulous post, Katie. I resonate with pretty much everything you had to say (and said so well).

  28. Happy New Year! May fiction writing be a big part of it for you.
    Loved your post. The point I most appreciate is “I write because I love my stories so much I never want to forget them.”
    That was the motivation that resulted in me writing a novella about the tour I took in Ukraine.
    That motivation is also an important part of the novella that is coming out this year. As a teenage I loved dogs and training them. Those fond memories play an important part in Change of Luck: Not My Fault.
    What I learned this year was to hire a professional for aspects of the writing business that most frustrates me. For me that was setting up a good website. Hopefully that will be a reality in a month or so.

  29. Paul Egbert says

    Hi, Katie. I echo that this a great post. Of all the thoughts in there, for me the two most important are Lesson #1 (Don’t take yourself so durn seriously) and the last quote (It’s gonna be OK ). Thanks for the post and your efforts.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      They kinda work together. I find when I stop taking myself so seriously, everything suddenly seems much better all the way around. 🙂

  30. This is super helpful actually seeing it all down like this, because honestly I feel like I had a similar year in the writing sense. And just knowing the whole writers’ struggle during this whole year was wider spread than just me is very comforting. Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve had the same tendency to think it was just me, but 2020 in general was a year of destructuring across the board.

  31. 2020 put so many of my plans on hold. 2021 does not look very promising. And yet, I want to write stories people will enjoy and talk about because they are fun.
    K., thanks for the reminder and your honest post to help give 2020 the perspective it needs.
    And happy New Year to you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As much as we all hope things will be totally different in 2021, a transition as large as 2020 will take time to resolve. I think it’s valuable to realize that and to pay forward whatever perspective we gained in the last year about being kind to ourselves in regard to productivity expectations.

  32. Hey Katie,

    I love your be present advice. Though our writing styles are probably similar – I love planning, but when I am planning – I seem to go to this really crazy and weird place.

    If I have a word prompt, I know which of my characters to ask about something, and they always have this crazy story to tell me.

    Henry setting a fire cracker in a bully’s pants, and saving the nice girl from being bullied.

    Sam marrying Kurall and Emmy.

    Hiroku getting angry at Kurall and Emmy for the crap that happened before the first plot point.

    They have these very interesting stories to tell me. I must sound crazy, but they are there and I can ask them just about anything, even if they are just figments of my imagination.

    Sometimes, I like the life of an INFJ. . . The overactive imagination connected right to almost perfect empathy and connection to everyone and everything – if I pay attention.

    I would get these interesting stories from them, if I was present in the hear and now, talking to them.

  33. I love the notion that writing is not a job. I don’t have to meet a quota, answer to a boss, or endure until that coveted two week vacation.
    Great podcast.
    I appreciate you!
    Glenda

  34. This is a good list. I also need to stop being so serious, but then I’m a serious person always struggling to make having fun a higher priority. I self-published my novel this year amidst all the chaos of bushfires (affecting my daughter and son-in-law’s property), a serious family illness and of course, the pandemic.

    I didn’t write a lot of words this year, struggled to finish my second novel but built a website, learnt about Amazon ads and started a blog and newsletter. I think one of the lessons I’ve learned is that I need to stop and celebrate my achievements as I go along. I’d been dithering about launching my novel when the pandemic took away my choices. I realised that I often complete something, then move on to the next challenge, without recognising what’s been achieved. (I say I didnt do much writing but not only did I publish my novel, I had 4 short stories accepted for publication this year – it’s a record for me).

    Thank you for your blog and your reminders about writing craft and personal goals. I’m currently using your book, Outlining your Novel, to redit my next novel (and applying it to a long short story I’m planning to write).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “I think one of the lessons I’ve learned is that I need to stop and celebrate my achievements as I go along.”

      I hear ya!

  35. lynnmosher says

    Hey, Katie-girl! I’ve missed bumping into you. As always, your advice is excellent. I love this post. So well thought out. This year, I felt led to back off and rest somewhat, writing merely once a week for my newsletter. I’m pondering on what is next. The New Year will bring surprises, I feel. GOOD surprises, I pray! I know you will do well whatever path you are led to take. New Year’s blessings to you! ❤

  36. Once a week, I can say: “no fear, K.M. is here!” Your blog has taught me many lessons… too many to name and number.

    Thank you so much, K.M. Weiland. 🙂 You and your site are blessings in my life!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah. :p Glad you’re finding the site useful!

      • Useful? Are you kidding? Your site has changed my entire thinking process on writing! It’s changed my writing for the better!! And your amazing books… both fiction and nonfiction are so awesome and helpful. You’ve got the best writing blog I’ve ever known… and I’ve looked at many.

  37. RedHeather says

    Just sending you some love. You have an amazing way of articulating your journey and I see a lot of myself and my struggles reflected in you. Thank you for sharing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks, Heather. There is something very powerful in knowing we share with other so many nuances within our own unique journeys.

  38. Great blog and lots to ponder… I love that Julian of Norwich quote, it actually inspired me to write and publish a historical novel!

  39. Jo March is on of my favorite characters ever! Thanks K.M. Weiland for all of the encouragement you gave over 2020. Reading your posts helped on the rough days.

  40. Excellent post, this resonates with me so much. It’s so easy to get lost in word counts and trying to write the perfect story that it’s easy to forget about the joy of creation that sparked my desire to write in the first place.

    Thanks so much for writing this post, it means a lot!

  41. John MacLeod says

    The writing lesson 2020 taught me was that writing is not easy.

    In late 2018 I wrote my first novel for NaNo. In 2019 I wrote four more… and came away at year’s end feeling like, not only was this my new calling, but that books just flowed out of me.

    And then I spent the first nine months of last year dry as a bone. I still did something creative every day [in visual arts] but nothing as far as writing a book went. Fortunately I pulled it together in time for NaNo last year, but now that that one is done, here I sit again, without a clue. I mistook a streak of beginner’s luck for genuine aptitude. But at least now I am prepared to put in more prolonged effort to make a book happen.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Five novels in two years is impressive by any standard! But, yes, I think 2020 was a time of “rethinking” for a lot of us.

  42. Your books and articles have been such inspiration to me when things get tough and this one is no exception. Thank you and have a good 2021

  43. Thanks KM, that was timely indeed. There’s so much here I resonated with. Thank you <3

  44. ‘Play More’ – yes! A few months into the pandemic I threw out some potential blog topics on social media and the unanimous vote was for something helping grownups to play again. I think everyone felt they could do with a bit more fun at the time.

    My research for the series led me down wonderful pathways on the value of play for adults, including a pearler of a book by Meredith Sinclair titled ‘Well Played’. So many ideas, and the blog series got ME thinking very differently about play for grownups. It’s definitely not just for kids – science says it’s really important for us! And I’ve found it to be really good for inspiring creativity in writing too.

  45. Mary George says

    I think the biggest lesson I learned was from an empirical observation: how friends and family agreed how crappy TV is, how mind-numbing reruns are, and how watching old movies kinda stank. I learned what Maxwell Perkins said, that “There is nothing more important than a book,” is really true. I learned that reading makes a writer write better, that books on writing are huge morale boosters, and, of all things, endless hours stuck in lockdown forced the issue: to write every day. So! Got 3rd revision off to editor #1, and the outline and 30K written with editor #2. Hazzah. : )

  46. Katie, you are surely and purely a treasure!

    Word count, schmurd count!

    everything can change before the end of the toilet paper roll.

    I started writing because of the way it made me feel—like there was an infinite world of possibilities out there.

    I write because I love my stories so much I want never to forget them.

    I feel like I could quote the whole post here. I spent 2020 (and a little of 2019 and spilling into 2021) writing and editing my first novel. I have never written anything of that size before. I have written the occasional poem, creative letters and such. The novel was a new adventure. Since the subject matter was cathartic, I wonder now if I have more to say. Your post is a reminder that storytelling is as much for the teller as for the listener; an experience in the present that makes a memory to be cherished.

    Thank you for this sharing of your journey and yourself. Like I said, a treasure.

  47. Fascinating!

  48. Big lesson of the year (great for achievers): Negotiating a small, daily writing goal (one you know you can meet) is more motivating than the idealistic, ‘mini mount’ you constantly fail to climb. A few words, a sentence or two; whatever you can accomplish despite life’s busyness and feel satisfied about. My ‘mini mount’ was the likely culprit to my motivational clog, but with this focus shift, I might be doing 25% more than my ‘mini mount’ required; the fun is also increasing! If this sounds like you, it’s worth a try. It defies mathematical reasoning, but logic can easily be a writer’s nightmare. Don’t let it beat you this year : )

  49. I’ve written a mantra, reminding me why I did writing in the first place. I did it for myself. I did it because I liked writing stories, and dialogue, and I remember the first stories I ever told was these stick figures running around where I pointed with drawn arrows since I didn’t understand how comic panels worked, and one of them tripped over a dress, and it was very strange, but I loved writing it. Remembering that feeling helped me access that emotion again. I’m a teen, but due to depression, my brain physically aged, and I lost that childlike passion quicker than most. But I’m starting to find it again. And it feels quieter, more mature, more reliable, because I took intentional strides to find it.

    I’m still nowhere near the output I would like to have, but I’ve learned the hard way the importance of taking baby steps and nurturing the foundation. So every morning, I read my mantra.

    “I write because I love to write.
    I literally can do anything I want when I’m writing, especially during a first draft. You wanna write about vampires taking a vacation to a beach hotel during nighttime? You write that weird vampire story, you.”
    “Keep the wonder inside the page.”
    “It’s perfectly acceptable to write a paragraph composed completely of em dashes.”
    “Even when I don’t feel writing, I know it’s good for me, and after I finish writing, I’ll feel way better.”
    “Write because you wanna read your story someday. You’re a person too.”
    “Don’t jump into idealistic goals. I’m fine if you just write a sentence.”
    “And above all else, your life is your art. If you physically cannot write today, then just go read a book or watch a show. You’re making art inside your life.”

    Thank you for this post, Katie. I hope you find the new story of your Second Act. I feel like you’re already telling it, through your blog, and someday, you’re gonna tell it through a new book, and I feel like I’ve gonna finish my first draft and finally start editing. You and I, we’ve just got to wait and listen.

  50. Heather Wright says

    I learned two things in 2020. The first was patience. I spent many months with a brain empty of story, and frankly, in my world at the time, I couldn’t have found the focus to write it if it had come along. I had to trust that a story would turn up when it was ready and when I was able to write it. So, I stopped stressing and just waited–until September! The second thing I learned was acceptance. When inspiration did come, it was for something I had never done before–a screenplay for a Hallmark-style movie–so instead of trying to turn it into a short story or novel, I went with it. I invested in formatting software and started typing. I have never enjoyed writing anything so much in my life. I have drafted two screenplays so far, and am outlining my third. Whether anything comes of them is not a priority (but, yes, I will try to find a home for them in the future.) For now, though, my brain is no longer empty of story, words are appearing on the screen, and writing is a genuine joy. I didn’t expect to end 2020 on such a positive, creative note, but there it is, and it’s something that I’m gratefully carrying into this year. I hope everyone finds their joywriting this year and has a healthy, creative 2021.

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  1. […] considers that your writer’s block may really be writer’s indecision, K.M. Weiland shares 7 writing lessons learned in 2020, Kris Maze compiles productivity hacks from best-selling authors, and Kelsey Allagood shares what […]

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