July 11, 2019
I recently asked a group of published writers for examples of advice they would give their unpublished selves, looking for insight into the things that might speed up our writing journey. As my readers, y'all hear what I think a lot, and obviously I think that's great. There are few things I like better than pontificating about writing. But I also know that it can be helpful to see that we've all been on the same journey, and in most ways, we're still on that journey, so let’s listen to other voices for a little while, and find some wisdom and inspiration from the advice they’d give their past selves.
Patience and the Writer
Chris Eboch: Everything in publishing takes longer than you'd think. Be patient, keep working on new projects, and assume it will take a lot longer than you think or want to get where you want to be.
Tracey Eagan: Be patient and keep writing and trying, it is hard but worth it!
Linda Wilson: Be patient. Truly knowing your craft takes time and have fun all along the way. Share your work with a critique group or a writing partner. For me, that has sped up the process.
So it's clear that writers would caution their unpublished selves not to be in such a big hurry. That can seem like painful news. Most of the world today is really not designed for patience or for long routes to success. We like our instant gratification. And many of us have been told we have talent, which can lead us to expect the journey to be shorter than it’s going to be. So it’s hard to be patient. But publication is almost always a result of polished skill, plus good timing. Skill takes time to perfect. And good timing can be a function of luck. Are you offering something that publisher believes it has space for and wants or needs right now? We can't do much about luck, but we can do a lot about skill. And therein lies the shortest path to publication.
Then once you finally have the piece ready to go and you know you’ve got something really great, then you’re going to need to draw on that well of patience again as you wait for publisher responses. And once you get a bite, you dip into patience again as you go through revisions and wait on all the moving parts that make up publishing. Writers may not always be saintly, but our patience needs to be.
Practice Makes Perfect-er
Kristy Duncan Dempsey: Write every day.
JoAnn Early Macken: Don't be too hard on yourself. Fit your writing into the cracks if you have to--that's what pocket-sized notebooks are for.
Jessica Swaim: Always remember that the real joy is in the writing itself, doing work you love every day and growing in it, not in the publishing (though that is nice too).
Now this may look like contrary bits of advice, but it's not. We learn most about writing by writing, because if you write enough, you'll begin to find your voice, you'll begin getting outside yourself and you'll become more comfortable working with all the tools of the writer's toolbox. So we absolutely must write. And we need to find the joy in doing it (or this profession is going to be unnecessarily painful for you). But we also must make all this practice fit into our lives. That can mean dedicated time spent with the rest of life shut off and our total focus on the work. That’s the ideal, but how often do we manage to live in ideal situations? Sometimes putting in the writing time means fitting it into the available spots in a crazy busy life. As Neil Gaiman has said before, write a page every day and you'll have a novel in a year. So sometimes you can write huge chunks. Sometimes you can only write a few lines in a rumpled notebook about the way the light shines on a puddle after a rain. But if you only think it and don't write it, you're a muser but you’re not a writer. And conversely, if you write, you're a writer. It's that simple (which doesn't necessarily mean easy). Be a writer: write.
Learn with a Little Help from Everyone You Can
Rick Starkey: Join a critique group as soon as you can. You learn a lot from other writers who understand the process.
Jeanette Larson: Join SCBWI and attend meetings and conferences.
Eugenie Havemeyer: Make connections. Follow up on all leads. Find a mentor who loves your voice.
I'm a huge advocate of learning, y'all know that. And many of the readers of this newsletter are also students of the Institute, so you value learning as well. Distance learning is learning. Face-to-face workshops are learning as well. So is learning from a writer who is willing to give advice during your journey. Not only can learning from other writers build your skills and understanding, it can be immensely inspirational. I have never taken a class or watched a webinar or gone to a workshop where I didn't come out inspired. Sometimes it's the tiniest thing that sets my wheels turning and makes me itch to be writing, but I always find something. This kind of learning has been tough for me to justify, as it can often be expensive, and I like my writing to bring money in, not let money leak back out. And there isn't always a direct link between the learning and selling something. I've attended workshops where I ended up not finding success in that writing niche, but I now understand it better. And honestly, finding out where I won't be writing has value too. It can pinch a bit, but the more I find my writing slot, the more success I find on a steady basis. And, of course, not all learning is expensive. So let’s talk about the writing that doesn’t pinch our pocketbooks.
Reading is Learning Too
Could we finish this without talking about the value of reading? Of course not. Writers read and mostly we love it. And sometimes we need to be reminded to do it when we're so busy and reading feels like goofing off. But reading is learning and learning brings us ever closer to publication success. So let's end this particular essay with encouraging quotes about one of our favorite things:
Kim McDougall: Read a lot. Read outside your genre too. Read plays for dialogue and poetry for the beauty of the words. Read, read, read.
Tammi Sauer: Don’t just read other books—ANALYZE them.
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor.
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