On Writing and Creativity: Lessons Learned By My 35th Birthday

It’s my 35th birthday today and so here is a personal post about my lessons learned.

35 seems to be a landmark birthday for me, perhaps bigger than 30 and this blog is extra accountability for me as well as (hopefully) encouragement for you!

  • There is time to write, you just have to decide your priorities. People often say they have no time to write. It has to be the most common reason why people don’t start or finish writing the book they always wanted to write. 2 years ago I moved to 4 days a week at my day job. That one decision has changed my life. I spent that extra day researching and writing my first book, “How to Enjoy Your Job“, then I started this blog, and then wrote 2 more books, now I am about 1/3 of the way through my first novel. My massive lesson learned is how much difference one day makes. I urge you to consider whether it is worth giving up 20% of your income to achieve your dream.
  • You can conquer your demons with affirmation and action. I spent many years believing I wasn’t creative, that everyone else in my family was (they are mostly visual artists) but I was the business one, the all-rounder. I also believed that if I wrote a book, it had to be a Booker prize winning literary fiction novel, critically acclaimed with huge sales. These 2 beliefs held me back from seriously writing for around 20 years (aged 12 to 32). Then I wrote down this affirmation “I am creative, I am an author“. I wrote it on a card and kept it in my pocket. I said it as I walked to the train to go to work and on the way home. After about 4 months, I started my business ‘The Creative Penn’ and registered this domain name. It has become a self-fulfilling affirmation and I know now I am creative! Affirmations are not enough though. They need to be paired with action, hence the books, the blog, the podcast and the rest. Creativity comes with effort and persistence as well as the occasional insight from the muse.
  • You can write a book. It just takes time and effort. My first non-fiction book took 9 months of nights, weekends and that extra day off. The next 2 only took a few months each. Now I am onto my first novel and it has been 3 months and a long way to go! I’m loving the journey which is important because books take time and effort you could be spending on other things – like your family, a more lucrative business, exercise, social life and much more. I’m not famous (yet!), I’m not rich (yet!) and I don’t have a global publishing deal (yet!). But I have written 3 books of around 50,000 words each, edited them many times, self-published them and promoted them. I have learnt so so much and still learn every day, hence I never stop blogging. I guess the lesson learned here is that you can write a book, you can achieve your dream – and then you discover the next dream, and the next book.
  • Writing a novel is much harder than writing a non-fiction book. But it is also more fun! This is a recent learning for me as I started my first novel quite fearfully for NaNoWriMo last November. I was apprehensive about my imagination being lacking or my story being naff. I was becoming crippled with the thought of failure which is a recipe for blockage. Mur Lafferty’s podcast “I should be writing” really helped me as Mur gives you permission to suck, and also allows the inevitability of the first novel being pretty crappy (click here for interview with Mur). This released the fear and kick started me. I then used Tom Evans wonderful program on Blocks to help me get my first ideas (click here for the interview with Tom). I am now immersed in my novel’s world, character building and just alive with ideas. I am loving the process (although some days it is very hard to write). I have 33,000 words and am on track for finishing the novel this year. Who knows where it will go, but I am enjoying the journey!
  • Marketing and building an author platform is fun and it works. You might think I am crazy but blogging and networking on Twitter are two of my favorite things to do. I do them for fun! I started this blog to build an audience, just like wannabe authors are meant to do. I did it because I was supposed to, but I had no idea how rewarding it would be. It took about 6 months of blogging to get some traction, some readers and some decent search traffic, but by then I found my stride and now I define myself as a blogger. It is a core part of who I am. I have been on twitter a year now. Again, I joined because I was ‘supposed to’ and now it is absolutely my favorite social network. I have met amazing people on Twitter, including most of the people who have appeared on the podcast. Yes, it has driven traffic and sales for me, but more than that, I have made friends all over the world. Brilliant! So don’t expect any slow down in my blogging, podcasting and tweeting in 2010!

Please do share your lessons learned about writing and creativity in the comments. Has it taken you 35 years to get this far?!

    Image: Flickr CC D Sharon Pruitt

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    1. Gwyn says

      I’ve learnt that once you really get the ball rolling, it won’t stop, even when you are tired and you want it to! (33 years)

    2. Eloise A. says

      I am 47. I learned that a healthy neurology is key I always wanted to write, but it was not until I was diagnosed with and treated for Adult ADHD that I was able to focus. I started out with NaNoWri Mo and in the next 14 months wrote 350,000 words. I haven’t stopped since. So, I say, if it really really is not happening for you, please have your neurology checked out. It is the single greatest miracle in my life…after having my child, of course:))

    3. says

      Happy Birthday! Enjoy every one, not worrying about the number.
      I agree that non fiction is much easier to write than fiction. Fiction takes a lot of time and much more creative energy, but what you generate when you apply your patience is so exciting.

      • says

        Thanks Julie – I definitely get some good results when I spend time immersed in the world I am creating. We shall see what happens – I will certainly have a manuscript by next birthday!

    4. says

      Happy Birthday! It’s hard to believe, but I am looking back at 40 years. I learned that the world is a much smaller place than I thought and most people are genuinely good and have your best interest at heart. I also leaned that work can be fun and fun can be work; it all depends on how you choose to look at it.

      • says

        Thanks Tony – it is great to connect across the oceans as we have done and many others on the social networks. It makes for a very happy writing life!

    5. says

      Happy Birthday! Dont tell anyone, but I am only a couple of months behind you.

      What you say about finding time to write is true. LIFE keeps dragging me away to do things like pick people up at the airport, spend theraputic time on the couch with tubs of ice cream. The IMPORTANT things.

      I smile when I see you say you’re writing your first novel. I’ve taken on the challenge of Nanowrimo 8 times, and finished, 8 times. Which means I have 8 novels under my belt. But none are published. So I know the work and fun involved in writing a novel, but not the after-party success, such as you have had with your non-fiction.

      And then there is the start of my blog journey, which you might have seen. I think it was reading your site and the Author 2.0 document, and another blog, which started me on my journal ways. I think I see us both heading to the same point but with different stating positions. Which I quite like.

      Good luck with your novel. The rush of the ending is fantastic. It grinds through the middle, but once you see the light at the end of the literary tunnel, its awesome.

      • says

        Thanks so much Matthew – you are obviously a prolific writer – very impressive! The after party success comes with a lot of hard work I think, different skills than writing. It does sound we are doing some parallel things as well. All the best with your writing!

    6. says

      Happy Birthday, Joanna!

      Like you, I love blogging and Twitter. They are indeed my favourite forms of social media.

      Blogging has been great for my creativity. And as you mention, Twitter has been a terrific conduit for meeting amazing people — including you!

    7. says

      Happy Birthday! If I were you, I’d celebrate big! You’ve gotten a huge amount of accomplishments for a 35 birthday. I guess if I’ve learned anything is that I wished I had done whatever it was sooner. And that includes writing! Better to take big risks now then to regret not even trying later.

    8. Jerry P. O'Dair says

      I have read a few of your blog posts and returned to your site today again. My mother passed away a month ago today and I’m thinking, writing and working on some creative projects with the jumbled emotions of a griefing son. I like the style of your writing, and I can feel the heart and passion that comes to me from your website and words. Since I have had an off and on again love affair with photography and image making as long as you are young, I find your flickr images attention grabbing. Thank You, jpo

      • says

        Hi Jerry, I’m so glad that writing is helping you through your grief. I think pouring your heart on on the page can definitely help. Thanks for stopping by.

    9. pauline b says

      I just turned 35 last 2010 and I just have this long time dream of writing a book. I have wanted to write eversince I was in my gradeschool but I did not do something about it except for some entry in my journal. I am truly inspired by your words .I came across this site as I was looking for some online help on creative writing.

    10. says

      Hi Joanne, I’ve been subscribed to your website for almost a year now. It has been so useful and enriching to me. I’m working on my first book, but the main two things I’m concerned about are:
      – How to find a good editor?
      – publishing on demand as a safe choice for a first book and how to do that?

      Thanks for all the information,


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