Today I have the pleasure of participating in a Blogfest hosted by Carrie Butler .
Carrie had the idea of having us talk to the people we once were when we first started writing in earnest with the object of being published. What did we learn? What advice can we give? What encouragement?
Carrie has joined with her co-host, PKHrezo to compile those posts and put them out as a free e-book. It’s a wonderful idea, and I’m delighted to be on the Blogfest.
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So you’ve decided that you like to write and you like entertaining people with your writing. Now you are getting ready to do what it takes to be published. It’s pretty exciting, isn’t it? I remember how it was. And I remember, too, how slowly things happened, how much waiting there was.
There are a lot of lessons to learn, and experience does tend to be the best teacher, but let me give you a few pointers that will help smooth things:
* Cultivate Humility / Drop Your Arrogance
You may have ability, talent and drive, but so do a whole lot of other people. If you keep shouting about it, they will (choose one metaphor): pull out their earphones/ switch channels/ cut you dead/ dismiss you as a pain in the neck/ actively hate you.
Years ago, just out of college, I sent around a manuscript. I received a rejection note that said that the manuscript needed work. I am embarrassed to say that I wrote back a long, angry letter saying that I didn’t need to improve the thing. (Did I say I was very young?) I came to my senses not long after that. I have never gone into a tirade with anyone. (And I have never queried that agent – who was very nice to send me a detailed comment)
* Don’t be Shy
Yes, I know I wrote the paragraphs above. Odd as it sounds, while some writers seem to be arrogant, I think many of us have a fear that people will read our work and find it lacking. Well, maybe someone will. You have to deal with that. But if you don’t ask for advice, for input, for guidance, you will never know how you are perceived, and you will never know how you can grow.
* Don’t put all your basques in one exit – er, I mean – Don’t put all your EGGS in one BASKET.
Ideas for other stories will occur to you: write them down. Make some notes. You will have something to fall back on when you finish your current, engrossing project. Believe me, the sense of futility when you have nothing to turn your energy to can be crippling. This helps avoid it.
* Carry a notebook and jot your ideas.
You will also end up jotting grocery lists, phone numbers, the name of that wonderful recipe someone made that you plan to look up. That is all right. The presence of a notebook where you put your jotting is crucial. Otherwise you’ll be writing on napkins, on the back of dinner receipts, on brochures, and what you don’t end up throwing out unintentionally will be crumpled beyond retrieval and all your magnificent notions will be lost. (The magnificence of a notion increases in direct proportion to your inability to locate and capture it, by the way.)
*BACK UP YOUR WORK.
Not in one single location. Remember when your hard drive crashed? If you hadn’t heeded that advice you would be in the soup now!
*Do your research
This is a piece of advice that can be taken many ways. If you’re writing about history, make sure it’s accurate, or else give reasons for any deviation from the facts. In this case, though, I am talking about researching the steps you have to take to meet your goal, and the players along the way. http://www.pred-ed.com is not a bad place to start. I would never have had all my work sidelined by a dishonest agent if I had done that years ago. To be honest, Pred-Ed did not exist, and I was not on the Internet, but I could have curbed my wishful thinking and taken the time to check things out.
*Write a working Pitch, Synopsis and Blurb for each project.
Seek advice on them. As a story evolves, they will change, but you can’t publish without them, whether you self-publish or go the Traditional route. It is an excellent idea, as well, to have a condensed pitch, 300 characters or less, to put in online submissions as well as a super-short twitter pitch that you can throw into the mix when there is a ‘Twitter Pitch Frenzy’. Tweak them regularly.
* Improve yourself:
You’re a good writer. You know it, people you respect have been telling you so. You can feel the talent you have, and you find nothing so satisfying as finishing a scene and knowing that it works. I have some news for you: if you do things right, you will be a far, far better writer in a few years than you are at this moment.
I’m not saying you’re bad. I’m saying that if you do things right, you will continue to improve. Read other books. Listen to people. Keep notebooks. Let yourself grow.
I wish I had attended more workshops and conferences. I’m doing that now. No one is going to look at you and voice your secret fear: that you are a phony. If you write, you’re a writer. And you’ll gain confidence and comfort associating with other writers. You will also get some fabulous ideas and tools.
*Roll with the punches
There are two or three bestselling, quality authors whose work I really don’t like. It doesn’t mean they are bad: it means that they are not to my taste. Apply that thought to yourself. You are writing stories. Some people will love your work and some will declare that they would rather have their teeth pulled than read anything you have written. Even the nastiest expression of dislike can have a grain of helpfulness in it, if you look at them the right way.
*Associate with other writers.
You learn a lot by listening and paying attention. And you can share what you know. It’s rare that even the most green newbie doesn’t have something I haven’t thought of. And other writers make great beta-readers.
*Contribute (or, ‘Give as well as take’)
If someone does you a favor, return the favor. Do a beta-read. Offer a line edit (just make sure you’re good at grammar and punctuation) or a character critique.
*Appreciate your readers
*When you are contacted by a reader, take it as the compliment it is and respond promptly and pleasantly. You wrote your stories for your readers. They are your customers. Never, ever, ever respond to a review, especially an unfavorable one.
If someone is interested in your writing, that person is also interested in you. An online presence is crucial. And be selective about what you put there.
*Stop viewing other writers as adversaries.
As Hart Johnson said in an interview I posted, we are not in competition. The more good stories are out there, the more people will read them and want more. Sincere compliments are always a good idea. And if someone says something nasty about you, ignore it.
And the most important advice is this:
Just keep writing. Even if you think it won’t go anywhere, write. Edit your work, jot ideas, fiddle with plans if you like – but at least once a day write something. It is odd how putting forth effort actually strengthens you. I learned this after a years-long dry spell. It was wonderful when the log jam broke. The dry years were very hard.
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“I give permission for my entry to be included in the e-book compilation without royalties and/or separate compensation.”