12 Steps to a Writing Life


In 2008, I joined a writers group for a few months. We did some writing exercises, one of which was to write 12 steps for writers, inspired by The 12 Step Program for Alcoholics Anonymous. Here’s what I wrote.

12 Steps to a Writing Life

Hello. My name is Alanna. I am a writer. This is my version of Writers Anonymous: 12 Steps to a Writing Life (I write them in the present tense because they are never finished, they are things I must do over and over again).

1. I admit I am powerless without writing- that my life is empty without it.

2. I believe the muse can pour the words into my brain, down my arm, through my fingers, into the pen, onto the page.

3. I make the decision, sometimes hourly, to write no matter what else is going on in my life. No excuses.

4. I make a searching and fearless inventory of myself and the world around me, and write it down, as I see it.

5. I admit on paper the exact nature of my flaws through my characters and stories.

6. I am entirely ready to let the characters speak for themselves, and not force the characters into a mold or stereotype.

7. I humbly apologize to the characters when I do try to control them.

8. I make a list of all the characters in my story, and I am willing to listen to all of their backstories, even if it’s time consuming, and even if the information doesn’t go into the finished story.

9. I allow the characters and the story to evolve and change whenever possible, except when to do so would block the progression of the story.

10. I continue to take inventory of myself and the world around me, and write it all down, as I see it, and if I dance around the truth, I rewrite it.

11. I seek, though daily writing practice, books, classes, and my writing community, to improve my craft and discipline, to the best of my ability, and to draw inspiration and knowledge from these various sources to achieve my writing goals.

12. As a result of these steps, I have experienced a creative awakening, and I try to carry this message to other writers and would-be writers, and to practice these principles in my writing life.

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10 comments

  1. This is so creative. It belongs on one of those big illustrated posters that sell at book stores. You should get an artist to illustrate the background and market it. I can totally see it.

  2. Great list. That “searching and fearless inventory of myself and the world” gets me to the core. When I first started writing, I just wanted to tell stories. I didn't realize then just how much of ourselves goes into these stories. Sometimes, it seems like I'm standing out there in my underwear for all to see. I must be developing a thicker skin because it doesn't seem as scary anymore.

    Thanks for the wonderful insights!

  3. Hi E K, thanks for stopping by my blog and for your nice comment! I'm so glad you enjoyed the list. Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, in her book Pen on Fire, in the chapter titled “Expose Yourself,” quotes novelist Jo-Ann Mapson on page 98: “Exposing yourself means writing close to the bone. It seems to me writers are born with one less layer of skin, so that they are privy to hard truths and pain that others might not feel.” I think it can be a difficult thing to do, and I'm happy to hear it doesn't seem as scary anymore for you. I also think a writer needs a thick skin to handle the rejection that often comes when one does expose themselves through writing. It seems like you're on the right track! Best of luck to you and Happy Writing! I checked out your blog and I'll be back! Thanks again!

  4. Just read this for the first time. It's truly brilliant & inspiring! What perfect timing for me, after a few days struggling with exposing myself on my blog.

    I agree with Kass, it should be printed & framed. For now I'm just gonna print it out, let me know when they're in stores.

  5. Hi Jenn! Thanks for your kind words, and I'm so happy to hear you found it helpful.

    I really will have to give some serious thought to marketing it. It was just an exercise for a writing group and I thought it would be a nice piece to post on my blog, but it seems to have struck a nerve.

    Thanks again for your comment!!! I'm so excited you love it! =)

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