I'm no expert, and my last wish is to sound didactic, because people my age who didact about really piss me off.
But here are a few bits I've learned in the last six years.
1. You can't avoid your destiny
If that were possible, surely I would have switched my major to elementary or English/Spanish education, though the prospect of teaching Spanish to high schoolers makes my head hurt. I would have just graduated with an MBA.
Some days, I don't write. I'm busy, I'm overwhelmed, I'm anywhere but the page. I know this is a sin against the "write every day in the same spot for the same time" doctrine. Judge me. Determine me "less serious" than you.
But I can never stay away. The stories leak out. They always do. I'll be back tomorrow.
2. Write poetry
And fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, plays... I've never really understood why one would funnel one's self into one genre, and/or fear the others. Maybe your screenplay will never see the lights. But why not learn new ways to tell a story?
3. Fiction does not equal nonfiction.
Say it with me.
4. Be humble, Hubris
It's fantastic that you believe your novel will rock modern society. Congratulations on your award! Oh, is that another status update about your award? And another? Good job. I'll be sure not to buy your book.
5. And on the other hand--it's not as bad as you think it is
I hated Mexico more than a handful of times. Then I actually opened the document and read it, and then I started actually writing it, and eventually I realized, "Hey, I'm actually proud of this thing!"
6. Back that bad boy up
Or else have a Tony equivalent in your life who can rescue your crashed and burned manuscript!
7. Man (or Woman) up
True story: in the emo high school days, I became so fed up with failed relationships and non-relationships that I took to writing stories from the perspective of the male antagonists in my life. I had to get in their heads somehow; they certainly weren't letting me in.
And slowly, it all began to make sense...
I still love writing from the male perspective. Somehow, it's easier to inhabit those brains. No offense, fellas. If you prefer sticking with your gender, I dare you to try the other.
8. Not everyone is in on the party
Sometimes I post about Nick and Pete Galveston, and you can look forward to future entries about other fictitious characters. I recognize that you may not, in fact, give a shit about these made-up people, having not read the story (and even if you have). And I do not judge you.
9. Write in a room with a door that can open
I took this from Roger's Writing Everything course and it's my favorite piece of "writing in a certain place" advice. I love the idea that interruptions can in fact be convergences, small waves that move the story precisely where it needs to go.
10. Patterns much?
The next natural step would be, "Break the patterns," but so far I'm just interested in figuring out what my patterns are. I see that my stories often have a wisp of foreign language and at least one artist--painter, photographer, poet. Perhaps this means that I need to reimmerse myself in languages and participate in more arts and crafts.
11. Make 'em weird
I like to give my characters small idiosyncracies. The Luke Skywalker figurine versus Buddha on the Dean of Students' desk, the glass bottle collection for Rob, the man who sees melting orange cones...all right, that one's a bit larger.
12. Don't underestimate the world you know
I wrote eight pages about my gymnasts for the Manhattan workshop. 'Twas no fantasy thriller nor work of international intrigue. But my classmates and teacher were excited, and the discussion quite animated. "Give us more!" they said. The back handspring in class probably didn't hurt, either.
13. Just play with it
Who can resist the advice of Dr. Boynton???