Thursday, June 3, 2010

What I Wish I'd Known

In a few weeks I will have the privilege of speaking to a Sacramento writers group and I am hoping that you might help me out. My topic is "What I Wish I'd Known" as it pertains to writing or the writing life. You don't have to be a published author to have discovered what you wish you'd known when you first put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Sometimes many years pass before a writer sees his or her words in print, and in all that time progress is made, mistakes are addressed and shortcuts are found. Wisdom is gained. This is where you come in.

First, I'll offer a few insights I learned of my own:
  • 'You're only as good as your next book.' I always thought this sounded like something said to keep the author's pride in check, or used as a book contract negotiation tool. But it's true. An author sends off one 'baby' and births another, if she gets the chance. Once again she stands at the lonely intersection of Creation and Vulnerability and scavenges for an idea, a character or a plot. There are no guarantees that she will sell another book or that people will like the book once it's published. So, the same effort should be put into each book produced, even though you had the luxury of spit-polishing the first one for five years and had to write the second one in a matter of months. It's hard to do consistently.
  • 'Humor is subjective and doesn't always translate well to the written word.' Okay, I think most of us have written something, for example in an email or a Facebook post, that seemed so witty at the time but fell flat and sounded plain stupid. As we mentioned in Latayne's earlier post of May 26, sarcasm without accompanying visual or tonal cues can be misunderstood and offense can easily be taken. On the other hand, if you have no gift for humor, you may simply bore the pants off the reader, which is just sad. This is one of those times that it's better to be safe than sorry.
  • 'Writing feeds me.' If life gets in the way and too much time goes by before I can write, I get grumpy and out-of-sorts. Basically, I'm starving. There is something about the creative process of peopling fictional places with living, breathing characters who want something so powerfully that they grow in spirit and soul that nourishes me. This is one time I shouldn't skip meals.
I polled different writer friends and here are two of the thought-provoking words of wisdom I received (without giving away the entire list):

Randy Ingermanson says:
Focus on improving your craft. Once you have good craft, the contacts with agents and editors will be easy. If you don't have good craft, any contacts you might make with agents and editors will be useless.

DiAnn Mills
True success is a hundred pages without an adverb.

Can you think of something you have learned along the way that would have made the journey easier? It could be a practical labor-saving device, an incredible book or website, or a quote or bit of inspiration you received, for example. As I said, you don't have to be a published author to have gleaned wisdom from the process. You just have to keep your eyes open. What can you share with us today?


Cynthia Schuerr said...

Find your voice, write from your heart and lighten up on back story.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Here are just a few:

Learn to be a dignified lady in waiting early on. When you “arrive” and accomplish one goal, you’ll only strive for another. Be content where God has you. Ask God to help create and bless a vision for your writing. Connect because you value people and relationships, not just to play the game. Maintain humility. It truly is one of the most attractive qualities.

Have a wonderful weekend!
~ Wendy

Bonnie Grove said...

I agree with Randy's advice. I can't think of anything more important than working on the craft of writing everyday. In the end, it's all that matters in publishing.

BK said...

On a somewhat different track from the advice stated, I've learned that if you're going to write historical fiction, you better have an excellent memory or excellent organizational skills to keep all the info straight. 8-)

Oh and there's that pesky tidbit too--there's no shortcut to good writing, no matter how many years it takes (fool that I am, I never cease to hope it will get easier).

Nicole said...

Line up 5 or 10 professionals (agents, editors, authors) and you'll get just as many opinions about how to write, what to write, and why to write. Prune the information or risk being a clone. And experiencing insanity.

The adverb thing has become a cliche.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Cynthia, great points. It takes awhile to find your voice, doesn't it? And to feel confident in using it.

Wendy, you're so right about the goals, especially. Topping one goal only gives you a great view of another, and another.

Bonnie, Randy is a keeper. He knows his stuff, doesn't he?

BK, thanks for the practical advice. It's becoming even more important for contemporary stories. Things are changing so quickly. Even our references to technology can date a story.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Nicole, thanks. We certainly do need to sift through the advice and not lose our individuality.

PatriciaW said...

Get out of your own way. No one impedes your path to writing and/or publication more than yourself--whether it's fear of failure (or success), lack of knowledge, a poorly crafted business plan (or lack of one), inability to take criticism, or any number of a hundred other ways writers stump themselves.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

100 pages without an adverb? Wow, I'm going to have to see about that one :)

I think Randy is right. Improve your craft everyday. I think setting small weekly goals or daily goals to write helps keep you on track and not only that, helps to improve your consistency as well as your craft/style.

Also, it's soooo beneficial to get feedback. Join a critique group or something similar because you'll learn so much that way, especially as a beginning writer.

Yvonne said...

For me, I am learning to stay current on issues that keep me on track with my writing. For example: A few days ago on Novel Matters, I read about cliche plots, and discovered I was writing one of them! It gave me new direction and I have a stronger plot because of it!

Bonnie Grove said...

Yvonne: YAY!! I'm doing the happy dance! I love that this blog has helped you find direction.

Its a goal for us here at Novel Matters - we want to encourage people, and work with them to help them be better. We're all on the same journey - and we're all learning together. I'm thrilled that this community has done something as positive and tangible as this.

Unknown said...

In the midst of all of your goals and dreams, leave space for God to move and do awesome things.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

What I wish I'd known? That I could learn a lot from writing short stories. Especially about voice, but also about what makes a story fresh and interesting.

If I could start over, I'd start small.


Anonymous said...

'Connect because you value people and relationships, not just to play the game.'
Wow. Point taken.
Sorry I missed any others. I don't take any awards for wit.
Fading to static.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Wendy, I love what you wrote.

I also agree with Patricia. Sometimes we really are our own worst enemy.

Anonymous said...

What I see here is that there's so much we can learn from each other. We appreciate all the great comments.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Don't be too quick to submit your work. Hone your craft first and learn the publishing ropes. It will save a lot of embarrassment and frustration.

Susan :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

I'm popping in this discussion late...been MIA lately because of my baby due in a week and trying to finish edits beforehand...whew!

Anyway, I love all the advice I've read here. One thing I've learned is that no one will take my writing career seriously unless I take it seriously and guard my time (uh oh, that was two adverbs in one sentence. Sorry, DiAnn!).