In April 2017, a 22-year-old young man named Jacob Gray hopped on his bike, ventured into Washington state’s Olympic National Park, and vanished from existence. His bike and camping gear were later found near the Sol Duc River, but no evidence of his body or what happened to him was ever uncovered.
Mysteries like Jacob’s are tragic but happen a lot more than you might think. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System reports that more than 600,000 people go missing in the US every year, at least 1,600 of which are people who get lost in the wild.
That’s pretty crazy to think about. At least 1,600 people lost in the wilderness, desperately fighting to survive. What’s even crazier is that the most reliable data on missing persons actually comes from Bigfoot hunters. Yep, Bigfoot hunters. (I can’t make this up.)
It’s human nature to get lost every once in a while. That’s just what explorers do. Think about your children or you when you were younger. If you were in a mall and let go of your mother’s hand, you were gone, off exploring the vast expanse of retail shopping.
Writers aren’t immune to this phenomenon. We’re explorers. If you’ve been writing for some time, then you have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to be a writer: to constantly feel unsure of yourself, to have minor bursts of confidence, to go through cycles where you’re dead set on your trajectory but then throw yourself out of the plane without a parachute, free falling in a direction that you’re certain is your new endgame.
It’s a rollercoaster. An insanely fun and rewarding one, but a rollercoaster nonetheless with crazy highs and even lower lows. In the six years that I’ve been writing, one truth I’ve faced countless times is that I’m going to get lost and start questioning everything that I do. On several occasions, I’ve found myself meandering down paths that I didn’t really want to be on.
In these situations, it’s important to be able to give yourself a metaphorical (or physical) slap in the face and realign to true north. But in order to do so, you need to be able to recognize when you’re lost and have the tools to set you back on track.
Again, think about being lost in the wilderness. Without a compass or a good map, you might as well be on Mars. The chances you make it home are slim to none.
Fortunately, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not lost in the wild and may just be lost as a writer. Considering how often I get lost (most recently less than a few weeks ago), I decided to create a set of guiding principles – my Writer’s Credo – as a tool to remind me what’s important and not so important.
It’s my own slap in the face / compass combo to put me back on track, more or less.
Feel free to use this as-is for yourself (just download the image and do whatever you want with it) or steal the premise and adapt it into something that works for you. After all, not all writers believe in the same principles. And that’s fine. To each his own.
Paragraph version just in case the image is tough to see/load:
1. Don’t write to please others, write to please yourself. If you enjoy what you write, other people will enjoy it too. Your writing is better when it’s from the heart and not out of duty. Other people will try to tell you to write mainly for your audience but that’s bad advice. Writing first and foremost for yourself yields the best results.
2. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. You want your writing to reflect who you are as a person. If you ever meet one of your readers in the real world, it should feel like they've known you their whole life, not like they've been duped.
3. Write to understand. Write about topics you’re interested in and want to expand your knowledge on; about things you have already learned and want to work out or confirm your understanding; or write to work out some inner dialogue that you want brought to light.
4. Don’t chase money or vanity growth metrics. This is how your writing becomes like everyone else’s. Never change for growth, more likes, retweets or whatever. Sure you might grow slower, but you’ll be way happier, and your true fans will be too.
5. Don’t publish something if you wouldn’t click on it. Writing and publishing often is key, but don’t publish just for the sake of publishing. Be proud of your work and take the time to make it good. If you came across your piece on the internet, would you stop to read it? More importantly, would you feel satisfied if you did?
6. Make note of content that performs well in public. This is a signal that you’ve struck a chord with a particular audience. Double down where it makes sense.
7. Take advice from other writers, especially those better than you, but do what works for you. Advice from others is great and can save you a lot of trial and error, but you don’t need to follow all of their advice. Find and do what works for you.
8. Stories are always better than telling. Explain the situation to me and I’ll probably forget. Tell me a story and I’ll remember forever.
9. Read to stay sharp and keep the ideas flowing. Reading is a great way to study other writing and passively improve your own. It’s also great for idea generation. Keep in mind that most “new” ideas aren’t new at all, just regurgitated ideas shaped in new ways.
10. Don’t forget to schedule leisure. It’s easy to obsess over becoming a prolific writer, but don’t let this obsession rob you (or others) of your daily happiness. Make time for fun and to enjoy life. Sometimes the best stories unfold while simply living.
11. It’s OK to take a break. Forced writing or writing when lost is bad. Take time off to recharge, revisit this Credo and then get back to it.
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”― Rumi
Hope it helps you as much as it's helped me!