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How many writers does it take to change a light bulb?

Iain Broome
Iain Broome
3 min read

I’ll provide my answer to the title of this post later, but you’ll probably work it out by the end of the next sentence. I think it’s high time that more writers – actually, all writers – took responsibility for their writing.
My first (proper) post on Write for Your Life looked at the concept of the muse. I suggested, a little controversially it turned out, that we writers can be tempted to hide behind this mythical being when things are going wrong – and others agree with me.

But that’s just one of our excuses. Us writers have many more and we’re not afraid to use them. From ‘You obviously didn’t read it properly,’ to the worryingly sex-based-sounding, ‘I’m just not in the mood.’

The writer’s social paradox

The truth is, the craft of writing can sometimes be a very solitary pursuit. And I think that can get to us. It affects our judgement and we naturally look for reasons outside our little writing bubble as to why there are problems at its centre.

Mostly, that’s fine. It’s okay to get grumpy from time to time. Being a writer, well, it can be tough. And I see no problem whatsoever in having the occasional whinge to your partner, a friend, your agent or editor. That’s what they’re there for.

But in the end, you can only complain so much. In the end, you have to return to your bubble, as Joanna Paterson rightly describes it, and face the facts. You are, essentially, alone with your prose. You make the decisions. Your problems are your responsibility.

How to take responsibility for your writing

There are three things that I have to constantly remind myself to do as a writer. They are extremely simple, but all play a vital role in allowing me to take responsibility for my own writing.

And notice I use the phrase constantly. When you’re finding things tough, it’s easy to forget the basics. Before you know it, your grumpiness overwhelms you and the excuses come thick and fast.

Anyway – those three things.

Take all feedback and advice seriously

Most of us ask for and receive feedback on our writing, particularly if we’re having a tough time and we’re unsure about something.

If you ask someone for feedback, even if you wholeheartedly disagree with how what they say, take it seriously. At the very least, put it in a drawer, then come back to it when you’re in a better frame of mind.

I remember one absolute stinker of a response from a tutor on my MA course. It was clear that they hadn’t read my novel past 50 pages and some of the remarks were personal.

I was fuming and ignored the feedback outright. Looking back, there were one or two comments I should have taken on board. But because most of the criticism was inaccurate or downright offensive, I dismissed it completely.

I should have owned that feedback, accepted it as part of the process of writing a novel. I should have taken responsibility.

Have some humility

As Nicola Morgan noted recently, one of the reasons some writers tend not to get published is their extraordinary lack of humility. Some writers, I’m afraid, are deluded about their ability. And they will never improve.

Writers who have humility are aware of their shortcomings and open to feedback. They listen to others and take advice in the right way. When things go wrong, they try to find out why. When things go right, they celebrate accordingly.

Then they get back to work.

Above all, humility allows you to become a better writer. If you can strike that balance between striving to improve and having confidence in your writing, you’re on to a winner. You’re in control.

Be proud of, and own, your success

Finally, don’t be afraid to get all giddy if you have success with your writing. That’s what you’ve worked for.

If you take responsibility for your writing when things are going badly, and you make difficult decisions along the way, then you should be able to give yourself a pat on the back when it all comes to fruition.

And of course, then get back to work. Sorry.

So to answer my question

As you’ve probably figured out, in my opinion, it takes just one writer to change a light bulb. Sure, you can get your pals, your partner or your significant literary other to hold the ladder, but only you can do the dirty work.

In the end, it’s about being responsible for the creative process. In good times and in bad. You’re the writer. No one else.

Share your thoughts

So what do you think? Am I simplifying things a little too much? Is there a detail that I haven’t considered? Or do you think writing is more of a collaborative process these days? Let me know in the comments!


Iain Broome Twitter

I'm the author of the novel, A is for Angelica. Every week, I send Draft Mode, a newsletter full of tips and tools that help you improve your craft and promote your writing.

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