Write It Sideways

5 Writing Tips You Learned from Your Mother

When you were growing up, your mother sounded like a broken record.

“Eat your peas.”

“Are you wearing clean underpants?”

“That coffee’ll stunt your growth.”

“You’ll poke your eye out!”

You spent most of your childhood trying to ignore her. And your teen years. Now that you’re all grown up, you’ve got life all figured out for yourself. Anyway, Mom was overbearing, paranoid. and generally full of it.

Or was she?

Did you ever consider that she might be the real reason you ended up on this path of literary success? Just think of some of these writerly pearls of wisdom she taught you:

“Keep yourself regular.”

Mom was always a big fan of fibre.

Never mind Fruit Loops or Frosted Flakes for breakfast like other children in your neighbourhood got to eat—her cupboards were stuffed with plain oats and wheat germ.

You didn’t even know white bread existed until you went away to college, and even then you were too afraid to eat it. You couldn’t shake your mother’s warnings about the dangers of constipation. The pain! The bloating!

We writers need to stay regular too. Fibre will help, but think more along the lines of keeping a regular writing schedule.

As an aspiring writer, you might still be treating writing like a hobby. Like knitting, for example. You pick it up when you’re sitting around and have nothing else to do. But if you want to be a serious writer, whether that means writing professionally or publishing fiction or memoir, you have to treat writing like a job. Set aside regular time to work on your projects, just as you would for any other goal in life.

“Don’t run with that in your mouth!”

Why did your mother hate to see you climbing on the playground with a lollipop in your mouth or walking around while eating a peanut butter sandwich?

Mothers tend to envision the worst-case scenario whenever humanly possible. Mom was deathly afraid you’d choke.

The same goes for your writing. When you have too many projects on the go at once, you won’t do justice to any of them.

If you must take on several assignments at once, prioritize them. Complete the most important ones first and work your way down. Compromise on something else that can be put on hold for a short time. If you’re working on something more creative, try to stick to one idea at a time.

Don’t let yourself burn out. Do whatever works to ensure you’re not juggling too many tasks at once.

“Try everything at least once.”

What difference did it make to your mother if you thought creamed corn looked and smelled like your baby sister’s vomit?

In Mom’s immortal words, “How do you know you won’t like it if you don’t try it?”

She had a point.

We often gravitate toward one certain type of writing—that place we feel most comfortable. It’s good to have your own niche, but have you considered writing something completely different?

You’re an ace blogger, but have you tried penning poem? You consider yourself a novelist, but have you tried a short story?

You could be missing a golden opportunity. Just think, you might be talented in more than one area.

Maybe we really should try everything once. (Except creamed corn.)

“If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?”

Mom didn’t care if everyone else in your class was allowed to watch “Hyper Teenage Zombie Cheerleaders From Outer Space.” She wanted you to think for yourself.

As much as it irked you at the time, think about the implications of this advice for writing-market trends.

While it’s good to be aware of what’s selling and what’s not, we shouldn’t let the market rule our writing or allow ourselves to fall prey to every passing trend.

At the moment, it’s painfully obvious that the young-adult fiction market is dominated by a certain teenage vampire romance and several other copycats. Does that mean you should throw out your manuscript and start working on something similar?

Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should. Be aware of market trends but, ultimately, be true to yourself.

“Life isn’t always fair!”

Instead of getting the bicycle you wanted for Christmas, you got socks and underwear. Your brother was allowed to sleep at a friend’s house on Friday night, and you weren’t. The forward on the other soccer team purposely kicked you in the shin, but the referee didn’t say a word.

Unfair? Yep. But according to Mom, that’s life.

The publishing industry isn’t always fair either. Sometimes books get published that are absolute rubbish—and they sell like hotcakes. Other times, veritable masterpieces might be overlooked because they appeal to only a small audience.

You might catch an editor on a day when her assistant spilled coffee on her lap. Maybe her dog just died, or the car broke down. While none of these mishaps have anything to do with you, you could still end up disadvantaged because of them.

Life isn’t always fair. Accept it, stop worrying about factors out of your control, and move on.

Thanks, Mom!

On behalf of all the writers out there, thanks, Mom, for teaching us the importance of regularity and for making us try unpalatable foods.

Thank you for encouraging us to follow our own paths and giving us a much-needed dose of reality.

Maybe you didn’t know it, but making us sit down while we ate taught us important lessons about writing.

You were right all along. We’ll even let you say, “I told you so.”