Posted August 5, 2014

This spring, I had the privilege of attending UW-Madison’s 25th Annual Writers’ Institute Conference.

Nathan Bransford presented Friday morning’s keynote address, which encompassed how to stay sane during the writing process. As the day went on, I had a short opportunity to compliment and thank him for his speech. He came across as a very down-to-earth guy who probably would have been a blast to have an extended conversation with.

I thought I’d share with you the basics of his keynote address along with my injected opinions and babblings.

The 10 Commandments

1. Enjoy the Present – Be satisfied with your state wherever you are in the writing process. Avoid the if-only game (if-only I didn’t have to wash the car, if-only I be a great writer like [name], if-only I had more [time][money][support]). Don’t spend time admiring what you have written. It’s been polished twenty times (and reads brilliantly) or it needs to be polished (which is why it reads like puke on the page). You know you’re guilty of both of these – at one time or another – I know I am. You don’t have to admit it aloud, and, if you do, I promise not to tell another soul.

2. Maintain Your Integrity – Be genuine with people because no one is out there rooting for a jerk. Do not take short-cuts; we all know when you take a short-cut.

3. Recognize the Forces Outside of Your Control – We’re in a business that does revolve around luck and “right time” moments. Learn patience.

4. Don’t Neglect Family and Friends – When you are a writer you must go into your own head to work. It’s an internal moment that is entirely different from the typical job. It’s an isolating experience I believe writer’s tend to enjoy. However, make a point to intentionally block off time – either to write or to spend with family and friends.  More importantly, remember that life will intervene. Make sure you take care of yourself and channel tough times into something positive. I did that – am doing that – with my “About Me” section as I heal up from breaking my wrist/surgery.

5. Don’t Quit Your Day Job – Don’t give up the balance and security it offers to your life.

6. Keep Up with Publishing Industry News – Keep up with the customs of the business, read blogs, follows agents and publishers. This is a great form of productive procrastination. If you’re going to be cruising the internet or wasting time on Facebook at least learn something about your craft while doing so.

7. Reach Out to Fellow Writers – I believe I wrote a post about this already! Join a local writers’ group. Make sure you feel comfortable there because these people are your peers, your support. If you do not feel comfortable then look for a different one.  As you network, I hope you find yourself immersed with an irreplaceable team, one you can grow with and learn from, one you can complain to (and they actually understand what exactly it is you are complaining about!). Talk to writer friends, let them hear you. Then return the favor.

8. Park Your Jealousy at the Door – Someone else’s success DOES NOT affect YOUR path. I love this. I love celebrating a fellow writer’s accomplishment. Remember that line – tape it on your wall, your fridge, wherever you might need it. Your journey is what makes you and your work unique.

9. Be Thankful for What You Have – If you’re writing, you are okay. If you are miserable when you write – if writing or the thought of writing brings you down – then take a break. Most writers have a darkness in them; we must have a full range of emotions to understand, but most writers are not in a dark place when they write.

10. KEEP WRITING! – This is the solution to every writing problem (even when it’s not easy). All writing eventually becomes hard (usually about page 50-75). Don’t stop. Don’t say you have “writer’s block.” Figure out the problem that you are in need of solving. Force yourself to into writing again and again and again. Write something, anything. Just don’t stop. So many writers stop then don’t start again.

Nathan Bransford is the author of the Jacob Wonderbar series. He’s a former literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd.