In writing, as in life, voice is crucial. Your voice has been honed by your family, your ethnic heritage, your neighborhood, and your education. It is the music of what you mean in the world. Imitate no one. Your uniqueness—your authenticity—is your strength.

Learn to love revision. Listen to suggestions about what you might add, cut, reposition, and clarify in your work-in-process. Welcome such feedback with gratitude and humility, returning to your words with sharper insight. Make mistakes, lots of them, revising draft after draft of your continuing story. Your errors will be educational, and if your pencil outlives its eraser, then you will know you're getting it right.

Regarding plot—the twists and turns and episodes of your life—outline as much or as little as you like, but expect surprises. In fact, invite surprise. Each time you begin some next chapter, your composition of yourself will be at risk. But that's okay—that's good—because you will not live fully if you never take side trips and detours. "Writing is like driving at night in the fog," E.L. Doctorow once noted. "You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."


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