I recently started moderating a new writing workshop for high school and college students. (There are a few a non-traditional students, too.) I wrote this up for them because it's what I try to keep in mind when I'm writing my own bullshit.
Eight Moralities for Successful Writing
1) Write as if you don’t need a metaphor about writing to help you write, because you don’t.
While I hope this list and the other methods of motivation help, they’re reminders, not keys to the company car. You’re either putting words to paper or you’re not, and once you do, you’re in the club. Simple as that, if you’ve ever said anything about always wanting to be a writer. So write something, come on in, and have a seat next to Hemingway. Don’t let him touch you.
2) Write from Olympus, edit from the Dairy Queen.
Letters to words, words to sentences/lines, sentences/lines to paragraphs/stanzas. At the end of it all, you want it to look like one piece made in a single swipe on your first try. So after you figure out how to make the world, figure out how to make some fries.
3) Figure out what words look like when they’re a part of written work.
Read a lot. Voraciously, if that’s your thing. I’m not saying you should rip other writers off, just that you should know what the options are. People didn’t know that you could make a guitar sound like an elephant until Adrian Belew did it, and despite any potential lack of practicality, it added another inch to the workbench.
4) Mostly, people don’t want you crashing on their couch.
Nobody minds a 400 page book that should be 400 pages. Everyone minds a 400 page book that should be 300 pages. If you can say it in twenty words instead of thirty, do it. Don’t choke your meaning off or cut yourself short, but, unless you’re writing about Austrian Economics, maybe skip the parts about Austrian Economics.
5) You have something to write about even though you haven’t been married, lost a loved one, been to France, or done acid.
Life is going to have a lot of major, important experiences that will change you, but instead of waiting for them to show up or, in what could take even longer, waiting to realize they’re here, you need to start writing now, if for no other reason so that you can be technically prepared. Also, if you can’t write about the bird in your backyard, you can’t write about the bird at a hostel in Tuscany.
6) Instead of being boring, don’t be boring.
Sometimes a door just needs to be opened—“I opened the door” is a perfectly wonderful sentence—so this isn’t a plea for complexity as much as it is telling you that there better not be two pages of expository feelings behind the newly opened door. Some people need a lot of dry information to get their point across, and most of them write instruction manuals.
7) There are so many people who shouldn’t be flying spaceships.
I once told a friend of mine that I like the music of Bob Seger because he tries hard. My friend responded by telling me that he could go down to NASA and try really hard, too, and see how that works out. Some stories are there right away, others never will be, and I can’t tell you when it’s okay to call it a wash, I can tell you it’s okay to call it a wash.
8) If it’s not in you, you can’t write it.
Best I can tell, being a janitor and not a neuroscientist, writing is based around pathology. A lot of empathy and sympathy goes into figuring out what is wrong—trouble is necessary for writing—and why something is wrong—questions are necessary for writing. People say write what you know and write what you love and the opposites of both, but if you can make the most human parts of you relate to the most human parts of others, the size of your writing world becomes almost as big as the world itself, as if you get a square foot for each person understood.
In conclusion: I never bought into the whole mysticism of writers feeling compelled to write unless they mean that they feel better when they write. If compelled means that dealing with the not-so-fun parts that get me to a point of temporary satisfaction I can only get from writing and it’s better than most television and all radio, then sure, I guess I’m compelled to write. It just takes time. If you don’t have time, you’ll be fine with just the first three items on this list. Also, if you don’t have time, you might just be better off enjoying the possible personal and financial rewards of hanging drywall.