Disclaimers before we dig in:
- Most of us do not enjoy being told what we must do, so if my musty list makes your writerly toes curl, you’re welcome to swap the word for something more appealing. Mush?
- If you identify yourself as a writer, I am going to assume you’re writing (just nod here), so I don’t need to include that on the must list.
- This list probably sounds all bossy pants, but that’s really more for my benefit. I need this list to keep me on track.
And now, on to the list . . .
By no means is this an all-inclusive list of musts, but it covers five of the biggies (for me anyway):
- You must remain true to your vision.
Now, hold on. I’m not talking about adopting a “My Way or the Highway” mentality. Hardly. I think it’s essential to be open to feedback and insights from voices you respect. What I am saying is, don’t be a sellout. Don’t compromise your integrity, your story and your characters for the sake of a byline. It won’t be your story any more. Don’t go creating regret.
- You must be kind.
And you know the kind I mean, right? Not the faux, syruppy, suck-uppy kind of kind. Genuine kindness, to me, is as much a part of being a professional as meeting deadlines. Being gracious and kind to everyone doesn’t just make you a well-liked writer, it’s what makes you a welcome member of the human race. Keep this must in mind when offering and receiving critiques, interacting with publishers or agents (and members of their support team), and whilst commenting on social media (that last one is a doozy, and sadly, the most often forgotten). And finally, be kind to yourself.
- You must express gratitude.
I’ve sent thank you notes for rejection letters. Yes. Seriously. You’re a kind person, so I bet you have too. If an editor took the time to read and consider my work, I want to acknowledge that, even if we didn’t make a match. Send thank you notes or emails to fellow writers and industry professionals, to those who encourage you (and especially to those who send you treats). Express appreciation for opportunities and be grateful for the help you receive. You are pursuing your own dream. No one owes you a thing to help you achieve it. If they do assist you, don’t just be astonished, be thankful and say so.
- You must take risks.
How you define risk is up to you—reading at open mic, entering a contest, asking a question when it feels safer to sit in silence, revising based on some good advice even if you’re not certain you’ll like the result, trying a new genre, joining a critique group, creating a blog, going to a conference (or speaking at one!), hosting a writer’s meet-up, approaching an agent or submitting to your favorite editor. Venture out.
- You must give back.
Unless your name is Bob and you live in a pineapple under the sea, you can only be a sponge for so long, ya know? Soaking up is essential, but there comes a time when you’ve got to give yourself a good squeeze. Share what you’ve learned (when asked), volunteer and look for ways to benefit your fellow writers.
What about you? What are your professional musts? You simply must share. (There I go, all bossy pants again.)
In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different. ~ Coco Chanel