Hi! Ava Pennington writing from sunny Florida, where autumn means a high of only 80 degrees! School has now been in session for a month or two. This means that all across the country, children are facing the same question that has been asked for generations: “What did you learn today?”
To my mother’s utter frustration, as a child I’d often answer her question with a blank stare and a mumbled, “I don’t know,” or even worse, “Nothing.” Sorry Mom!
Many years later (yes, it took me a while!), I realized I’m wasting my time if I don’t learn from my experiences. This applies to writing as well as everything else in life.
So with that, here are eight writing lessons I’ve learned the hard way:
1. Preparation is foundational
Just because I speak and write in English doesn’t automatically equip me to be a writer. Good writers hone their craft, read their genre, and use appropriate tools. My growth as a writer is dependent on the preparation I invest in my writing.
2. Perseverance isn’t always pretty
Are you familiar with BIC? No, not the pen. BIC is an acronym for Butt in Chair. It means that whether I’m feeling brilliant or not, I sit at the computer during working hours and write. Regardless of writer’s block or the ice cream that’s calling my name from the freezer, if I’m a writer, I’d better be writing. When I’m looking at a blank page, I can still write something—even if it’s nothing more than, “I can’t think of anything to write.”
3. Picture my audience
Too many authors claim in their book proposals that their book is for everyone. Newsflash: it’s not. When I’m writing, I like to imagine one specific person in my target audience. Better yet, I place a picture next to my computer as a reminder. I’m not writing to a crowd, I’m writing to an individual. Am I clear as to age, gender, likes, and dislikes?
4. Process my experience
The adage, “Write what you know,” is not always applicable. Sometimes we write about what we have researched or what we want to know. Still, there’s a bit of me in everything I write. My attitudes, joys, and sorrows leak their way onto the page. It’s important that I process my experiences before I share them.
5. Proofreading is not optional
God bless editors. And critique partners. And beta readers. But no matter how many other people will be reading and checking my work, it is still my responsibility to submit the cleanest manuscript possible. By the way, has anyone besides me noticed that no matter how many times you’ve read your words on the computer screen, there are always typos you miss until you print out your work?
6. Pace myself
Balance is key. Yes, when I’m writing I need to practice BIC (see #2), but I can’t sit in front of a computer every free moment of every day. All work and no play makes Ava a dull writer. Family, church, exercise, recreation, and rest are also necessary components of a balanced life. I confess, I still struggle with this one. But God knew what was best for us when He commanded, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). No exceptions—not even for writers.
“Practice makes perfect,” or so the saying goes. Well, maybe the result won’t be perfect, but it should be better than it was at the start. Even the apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Philippians 4:9 ESV). The bottom line is that I need to write…and keep writing. With each written word, I’m honing my craft.
The dreaded book reviewer. Or critiquer. The one who reads my work and proceeds to rip it apart. If I take everything they all said to heart, I’d put down my pen or keyboard and stop writing forever. I need to remember I can’t please everyone and I shouldn’t try. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep an open mind to constructive criticism. But after listening, evaluating, and ensuring that I’m not being stubborn, I also have to be true to my voice and my story.
Lots of lessons. And these are just the beginning of what I’m learning. May I prove to be a good student.
Now it’s your turn. What writing lessons have you learned?
About Ava Pennington:
Ava is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Kay Arthur, founder of Precept Ministries International. She is a passionate speaker, engaging audiences with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com