What I’ve Learned About My Writing From Writing

Janet Coburn
3 min readFeb 18, 2024

I’ve been writing since I was in second grade. Back then, and through college, I wrote poetry, most of it pretty terrible. (Pretty depressing, actually. I was bipolar but undiagnosed. Thus begin my day’s digressions.) Gradually, my poetry turned into prose and I went where my muse took me. Maybe it was all those papers I had to write for college English that reinforced my love of prose. (I still write some poetry, but mostly to experiment with different forms like haiku, sonnets, and villanelles. I’m on my second digression already.)

But on to lessons learned.

• My ability to handle distractions has increased. It used to be that I had to write in complete silence, which helped me concentrate. But, as writing became more routine and natural, I experimented with music for writing. Instrumental music was okay with me, but anything with lyrics took me out of the zone. Now I prefer to write with the TV on in the background. I’m not really listening to it. It’s just ambient noise and I tune it out. (My mother used to put on baseball games, which she was not really interested in, just to have some noise in the house. But I digress again.)

• I can keep a schedule. The ghostwriting company I work for bases its deadlines on writers producing 1,500 words a day. I’ve fallen into a routine. I write 750 words for about two hours in the morning and another 750 for around two hours in the afternoon. If I don’t make my 1,500 because of an appointment or something, I write 1,000 words, morning and afternoon, until I’m caught up. (If only I had had this kind of discipline when I was writing my failed mystery novel! Of course, for ghostwriting, I work from an outline, which I didn’t have for my fiction. But I digress some more.) I have to work my two weekly blog posts in there somewhere, but I’ve given myself a deadline for them as well. I post them every Sunday at 10:00 a.m.

• I seem to be specializing in self-help books. I gave up on reading self-help decades ago, but now it’s about all I write. (I did ghostwrite one short piece of fiction, but it was pure smut. So I guess I learned that I can write smut as well as self-help. But I digress yet again.)

• Ghostwriting suits me. Yes, it’s playing in someone else’s sandbox. And no, I don’t get a byline or royalties. But it’s steady work and keeps me from stealing hubcaps. Also, it supplements my Social Security nicely — not bountifully, but nicely. I don’t know what I’d do all day if I didn’t write. Become even more sedentary than I already am, no doubt. Or steal hubcaps.

• I can pivot. I write humor. I write about social issues. I write about mental illness. I write about language. I write about writing (you may have noticed). I’ve written about flesh-eating diseases, pandemics, and baseball heroes. I’ve written prayer services and stories about nuns. I’ve written about poverty in Jamaica. I’ve written about playgrounds and childcare. I’ve written lesson plans for textbooks. (My nickname is 1,000-words-on-anything. I suppose I’ll have to change that to 1,500-words-on-anything. But I digress even more.)

• I can call on my husband to help me brainstorm topics. He also keeps an eye (and ear) for news stories he thinks might interest or inspire me. And he has plenty of quirks that are fun to write about.

• And I’ve learned that cats are no help at all when it comes to writing (especially one named Ow-Toby), except as subjects. Which I’m sure will come as no surprise to you, but I put it out there anyway.

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.