Whether you’ve had the question floating around in your brain, are in the process of pounding out your first book, or have already won multiple publishing contracts and taken your efforts to the bank many times over, this article is for you. The debutantes will appreciate the words of wisdom, but the pros just might find some good reminders that resonate, as well.
I asked several authors to answer one question: “If you could give one piece of advice to a new writer, what would it be?”
After I sifted through the replies, I realized most of the quotes fell into two general categories. Either the author advised about the writing craft—the everyday practicalities of getting those words down on paper—or they commented on the complicated landscape of maintaining emotional and psychological well-being in what can be a soul-scarring profession.
Perhaps the most common advice related to the theme of getting going and doing it. “Just write,” says Fiona Jayde, author for Changeling Press, Red Sage and Cobblestone. “It’s easier to fix a bad page than a blank page.” Cynthia Eden, multi-published author for Kensington Brava agrees, and adds a golden piece of advice regarding perhaps the hardest time to generate those words. “Write each day, even if it’s just a few paragraphs. And when a rejection comes, grit your teeth and write more.”
Being a writer and being a paid author are two different things, of course, and for the latter, you need product. Shelli Stevens, who writes for Kensington, Samhain, and Cobblestone Press says, “Actually finish a book. Don’t start a book, write a few paragraphs and move onto something you just realized is way better. So many people have a bunch of a half written books and have never completed an entire manuscript. Finish the book, at least to even know that you can do it.”
National bestselling author Ann Aguirre agrees that a completed manuscript in hand is paramount. “Write the book. Don’t stop to reread. Don’t tinker along the way. Don’t worry about it being perfect in the first go. That’s not the point. The point is to finish.”
Would-be authors can get caught up in the anxieties of marketing, or enter the advertising arena prematurely. Dorchester author Elisabeth Naughton advises to stay focused on the prime objective. “Writers write, that’s what we do,” says Naughton. “Everything else comes from that—sales, books, signings, lists. You can’t reach any of those goals unless you write the book first.”
Most of us think of writing as a constructive, building-up process, but multi-published author Megan Hart, reminds us of the inevitable opposite of any creation: the need for occasional ruthless deconstruction. “Not every word you write will be gold. Don’t be too afraid or too proud to slash and burn your manuscript,” Hart sagely advises.
So what’s to get a person through this not-so-glamorous, sweaty-sounding-business of writing a completed manuscript? One thing, according to author of over thirty novels and novellas, Lauren Dane: perseverance. “Rejection happens to all of us so you need to pick yourself up and write the next manuscript. You can’t sell it if you don’t write it.”
Staying healthy and happy during this sometimes tortuous process was something frequently commented upon by authors. “Get a critique partner,” author Beth Williamson advises, “someone who will be honest and can journey along the same road with you.” Juliana Stone, who has been contracted by Avon Publishing, agrees that it’s crucial to have someone with whom you can share the triumphs and defeats of the writing profession. “Actively seek out like minded individuals,” Stone says. “Writing is often a lonely profession, but the added warmth of a voice that understands what it means to sacrifice family time, work time, friend time… in order to write…that’s priceless.”
Nobody wants to angst all the time. A writer needs to enjoy what they’re doing. Award winning author Denise Agnew says that loving what you do is a key ingredient to success. “Make certain that you have a core understanding of what it is you want to write, what resonates with you. What types of books do you love to read and really blow your skirt up? That’s probably what you’ll want to write, too. Too many authors take completely to heart the idea of “study the market” to the point they are always chasing trends. Discover what you’re really good at and make certain that is at the very heart of everything you write. This way you don’t lose yourself while chasing what you think you “ought” to be writing.”
Award winning Lacey Savage would agree with Agnew’s assessment that you must be inspired by what you’re writing. “Read, read, read!” Savage enthuses. “Always read with a notebook by your side, and take copious notes. Figure out what gives you that butterfly feeling in the pit of your stomach, and make a note of it. When you come across a boring passage, or you’re tempted to put the book down, make a note of that, too. Other authors are amazing teachers–whether they know it or not. Learn from their words. All of them. The good ones, the not-so-good ones, the so-bad-I-can’t-believe-this-got-published ones. They all have something to teach you, if you’re willing to learn.”
Two talented women offered valuable wisdom in regard an inevitable fact of author life: comparison to other writers and their careers. “Everyone’s journey to publication is different. Don’t compare yourself to others because you have no idea what that other person had to do to get there,” says Vivi Anna, who writes the Valorian Chronicles series for Nocturne. “Put a leash on the green-eyed monster,” national bestseller Anya Bast advises. “Know that there will always be someone who is selling better than you, getting better reviews than you, making better deals than you. Another author’s success doesn’t mean you can’t also be successful.”
How do you keep your creative flame burning and not let it flicker out amidst the harsh winds of a blank page, marketing demands, rejection, and comparison to other writers? “Take the time to not write,” Berkley author Jess Granger says. “I know that sounds counter intuitive, but everyone has to recharge their batteries somehow. Figure out what sparks your creativity in the first place, and don’t neglect that hobby or activity.”
Veteran Vonna Harper offered solid, bankable words of wisdom to the ingénue. “Approach writing as a business. It’s a strange marriage of creativity and practicality. When you’re writing, wear your writer hat, but the moment you stop working on the manuscript, put on your business hat.”
As for my own words of advice, dear person who is considering this awesome, anxiety-provoking, and unbelievably exciting profession? Well, it’s hard to follow on the coat-tails of these talented women, but here goes: If you step into the arena, be prepared for some wicked battles—not only with your keyboard, but the monsters of your own insecurities.
Having said that, enjoy. You’re entering the ride of a lifetime.
This blog entry will also appear in the Samhellion, the Samhain Publishing newsletter.