Stop pretending art is hard

This post is inspired by the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Week

This week, Gabriela from DIY MFA challenged her Street Team members to think about creative myths that keep us from diving in and doing the work of writing. She listed these 5 myths about creativity:

  1. Creativity is an exclusive club, and you can’t be part of it.
  2. Creativity is innate–you either have it or you don’t.
  3. Creativity is driven by chaos, so there’s no way to control it.
  4. Creativity is all about getting that one “Big Idea.”
  5. Creativity is focusing on an idea until it’s perfect.

But I know of another myth, one that encompasses all of these and more, one that we all use when we’re too tired or too scared to do the writing (or painting or playing or dancing or singing or whatever your medium is).

Art is hard

This myth… this is what we’re really thinking when we tell ourselves we don’t have what it takes, when we tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, or that we’re too “left-brained” to be creative. We think that the act of creating, whatever it is, it’s going to hurt. We buy into the idea that if we’re going to create something significant, something worthy, that we have to suffer for it. And if it’s easy or if we enjoy it then it’s not really art.

We’ve been fed this narrative our whole lives. But it’s bigger, older than just our generation. The trope of the starving artist was already popular in Puccini’s day. Why do you think La Boheme was such a hit? The artist must suffer and die for the sake of their art. If not, then what good is it really?

It’s ok to enjoy the creative process

Allow me to release you from the thrall of this myth. Art does not have to be hard… Art can, nay it should be drawn from the deepest seat of your pleasure and joy.

That’s not to say that you won’t be challenged by creating, or that you won’t have to practice parts of your craft to improve. But it never has to be hard. You never have to suffer in order for it to be “good.” You can come to the computer or the canvas or the keyboard or the stage joyfully. If you don’t, you have to ask yourself if what you’re trying to achieve is really worth it.

The key is confidence

Perfection is hard. Not making mistakes is hard. Measuring up to someone else’s standards is hard. But these things are not art. They don’t serve art. And they don’t bring us joy in the practice of them. Instead they make us overly cautious and afraid to try new things.

When we’re tentative and nervous and just looking for acceptance, it’s easy to feel like we’ll never measure up to the standards and expectations of the “creative club” we want to join. But if we can talk ourselves over the fear of rejection and criticism and just enjoy the process of learning as we create… That’s where the magic happens!

Stop pretending art is hard. – Amanda Palmer, The Ukulele Anthem

She’s dead right. We have to stop pretending that we’re not ready yet. Dive in. Have fun!

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

Want to know more about how to up your writing game? Sign up for the Writing Refinery email newsletter. You’ll also receive a free Character Detail Sheet that can help you learn everything you need to know about the main character in your current WIP!

6 qualities of a successful writing life (the only 6 you’ll ever need)

This post is part of the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Day series. For more information about DIY MFA, visit

Everybody has a formula for success, don’t they? If you want to be a writer you have to do these five things. You have to follow these seven steps in their exact order, and if you do you’ll have unlimited success.

It kind of reminds me of those chain letters that then became emails that then became social media memes… you know what I’m talking about. “Make a wish, then copy this letter five times and send it to five of your friends within twenty-four hours. If you do, your wish will come true. If you don’t you’ll have thirteen years of bad luck.”

Most of us are savvy enough to spot a scam like that nowadays, and we aren’t as quick to pass it on as we might have been when we were young. But sometimes we get fooled. Sometimes the thing we want is so tangible and the success that others have had is so obvious that we become convinced that the magic formula must surely work this time.

These are not the steps you’re looking for

A quick Google search will show you what I’m talking about. Four pages deep and more (that’s just where I stopped looking), with list numbers ranging from five to more than two-hundred, and evoking the names of famous and highly successful authors like Stephen King, people are driving traffic to their blogs and attracting customers to buy their exclusive courses, all in the name of making you a better writer.

The formulas range from ridiculously simple to strenuously ambitious (Stephen King writes 2000 words a day and his yearly reading list is… monumental), but they all promise the same thing. Follow their formula if you want to achieve success.

And we buy into it every single time. But… tell me, how’s that working out for you?

Can you ever think of a time when you took someone else’s writing advice and it didn’t work?

Formulas for becoming a better writer are sort of like New Year’s resolutions. They seem like a really good idea at the time. I mean, it works for Stephen King, right? And who doesn’t want to be a successful writer? But come March or April when you’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to get your 2,000 words a day written and you don’t feel any more glamorous or successful, what do you do then?

Most people either give up completely, or go through a minor identity crisis. How can we call ourselves writers if the way we write doesn’t match the way Stephen King (or Ernest Hemingway, or Ursula K. LeGuin, or F. Scott Fitzgerald) do it?

The myth of someone else’s journey

There’s no one-size-fits-all list that you can apply to your life that, if you meet the requirements, allows you to call yourself a writer. Sometimes the advice you receive is just advice. It might not work for you, or it might, but it will never be able to bestow on you the identity of writer.

Your best bet, if you really need someone else’s advice to get your writing habit jump-started, is to read all of those lists of steps, pick steps from each of them that you like, and try them on for a while. And then when they stop working for you, instead of falling into a pit of despair that you’ll never be a “real writer”, just toss them out and make a new list. The only steps worth saving are the ones that work for YOU.

In the end there’s only one thing that qualifies you to be a writer (I know I said six… they’re coming, promise). What Stephen, Ernest, Ursula, and F., have in common, the tie that binds all of us writers together… We write.

So now here they are, as promised, six qualities that, if you master them, will lead you to a successful writing life…

Six qualities of successful writers

  1. Do we write every day? Some of us do.
  2. Do we write a certain number of words each writing session? Some of us do.
  3. What kinds of books do we read? All kinds.
  4. When do we write? Early in the morning, late at night, on our lunch breaks, in the stolen moments we get while hiding from our children in the bathroom…
  5. How do we write? Into a voice recorder on our morning commute, on the back of a napkin while waiting for a blind date, in a special notebook, on the computer with Scrivener or Word or OneNote or Write or Die or….
  6. Are we published? In ezines, magazines, fanzines, Big Five publishing houses, on blogs, on Amazon, NOT on Amazon, self-published, or not published yet…

Don’t be afraid to make your own list. Tell me what works for you, because you may have thought of something I haven’t tried yet, something that is really helping you get words on the page or a better chance at a publishing contract. We can all learn from the processes that others have. And maybe one of those processes will bring us success. But if you were worried that you might not be doing this writing thing right, I’ve got news for you… you totally are!

Every writer is different. If we were all the same, the world of fiction would be so utterly boring! We all start from different backgrounds of race, wealth, education… these and a myriad of other factors contribute to our journey to success. You could follow all the steps that Stephen King has for being a better writer and still not measure up to his success. Or worse, you could fall out of love with the capricious muse and stop chasing your passion to create. How tragic.

So write! Just write. Don’t look for validation or a fast track to success. Put words on the page and then share them with the world. That’s all that is required of you. Make your art. Tell your story. Find your voice.

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

Want to know more about how to up your writing game? Sign up for the Writing Refinery email newsletter. You’ll also receive a free Character Detail Sheet that can help you learn everything you need to know about the main character in your current WIP!

Pocket full of (writer’s) kryptonite

writer's kryptonite
This post is part of the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Week series

Last week we talked about playing to our writing strengths. Knowing your storytelling super power can help you identify the types of stories you like to write as as well, and give you an area of expertise to focus on.

But as Superman has been teaching us since 1938, any super power comes with its kryptonite. It’s a balance of power. Superhuman strength comes with superhuman weakness, otherwise we’d all be monsters.

What is your writing weakness?

So what’s your writing weakness? If you don’t already know what it is how do you find it? It’s hard to look at yourself under the harsh light of honesty and name something you’re not good at. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably really good at pretending that your weaknesses don’t exist. But that doesn’t make them go away.

Take a moment to consider your weaknesses, without being self-deprecating and naming a “weakness” that’s actually a strength (you know you do that, too… it’s practically a hallmark of being a writer). More than likely, your writer’s kryptonite is closely linked to your writing super power. Think about it. Superman’s weakness (kryptonite) came in the form of crystals from his home planet of … Krypton!

If I’m honest, my main writer’s kryptonite at the present time is finishing what I start. Simple as that. I’m sure there are craft-related weaknesses in my prose, dialogue, and story-building that I could work on (I mean, nobody’s perfect, right?). But I can’t get feedback on things like that if I don’t actually complete a project and turn it over so that others can read it in the first place.

Turn those writing weaknesses around

Best thing about knowing what your writing weaknesses are is that you can figure out how to combat those weaknesses. Superman, knowing that kryptonite leaves him vulnerable and weak, chooses to avoid it. There’s not much he can do to change his weakness. But you! Your writing weaknesses are totally beatable. How? Take a class, get some feedback, practice practice practice!

It’s also important to remember that your writer’s kryptonite will change. As you begin to identify and combat your writing weaknesses, new ones will crop up and need your attention. The awesome thing is that you’ll be strengthening your craft with each weakness you take on and overcome!

So let’s empty our pockets-full of kryptonite and get on with the business of becoming stronger writers telling the best stories we can.

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

Want to know more about how to up your writing game? Sign up for the Writing Refinery email newsletter. You’ll also receive a free Character Detail Sheet that can help you learn everything you need to know about the main character in your current WIP!