July 1, 2014

Eleven essential things I've learned about writing

I've been writing since I was a little girl. By the time I got to college, I had grand dreams of being like one of those infamous authors who spent time at the Les Deux Magots, sipping wine and writing the next great American novel. Instead I just drank wine. I'd always finish the bottle, but never the first page.

I stunted my growth for decades, too afraid to write and too tortured not to write. Until I was politely shoved off a cliff and landed at the bottom with a broken soul. That's usually how it goes for alcoholics. They rarely see their own ending coming because they're too wasted during the climax.

So I did what any desperate writer who wants to keep living does: I got sober. And I started writing. But more importantly I started finishing things.

Since I enjoy sharing my experience with other writers, I've put together eleven essential things I've learned about writing:
  • Write for yourself. Most people (including loved ones and close friends) suffer from Cranial Rectal Inversion Syndrome, more commonly known as "head up the ass" syndrome. I'm fortunate to have a solid support system (I'm relentless), but not everyone you know will buy your book or give you kudos for writing one. They have lives. Writers are needy. Save your friendships and get a therapist.
  • Write every single day. Even if it's one sentence -- WRITE. The only requirement for being a writer is to actually put sentences together. Don't complicate it. Just shut up and write.
  • Read. Read. Read.
  • Take a class or two and be done. You can make a career out of taking classes on how to write and never get anything finished. Experience is the best teacher.
  • Read a book or two on writing. Beware -- there are hundreds. You only need to read a few. I recommend starting with The Writer's Journey, On Writing and Wired for Story
  • Learn to love making outlines. The painful moments you spend upfront meticulously working out your story beats will save you months (or years) of agony.
  • If you finish a first draft, put it down for a few weeks (or more) before you start the editing process. Editing is where the real writing begins. Edit, edit and edit until you can't stand the sight of that manuscript. Sit on it again, then go back and edit some more.
  • Share your work with people you trust. Also, expect to hate those people when they tell you the truth. But don't worry, you'll get over it and thank them in the end.
  • Find an editor who loves your genre. You'll probably think they're secretly trying to kill you, but they love you in their own special way. Remember that your editor might be brilliant, but if you don't agree with something don't be afraid to stand behind your work. Unless it's about pride, then shut up and make the changes.
  • If you're going the traditional publishing route, you'll need to write a kick-ass query letter. One that sings like what's her name in the Sound of Music. One that will stand out among hundreds of thousands of other query letters. You can find great advice on Query Shark. Warning: Not for the faint at heart. Take that killer query letter and send it out to as many agents and publishing houses as you can. You can join Publisher's Weekly for a small fee to get lists of agents in your genre. Another good resource is Writer's Digest. After you send out your hundreds of queries you'll want to invest in a suit of armor, or if you're a drinker, vodka. Anything to numb the stab of rejection. You'll get plenty.
  • If you're going the Indie route, bless your heart. That's what I did because I wanted to learn about the industry and I wanted control of my work. You'll need to pull together a team of people including the content editor, proofreader, book cover designer and interior designer - both print and ebook versions, a street team to help market your book and pre-readers. You'll also need to reach out to bloggers, podcasters, magazines, newspapers, radio stations, libraries, book stores to help spread the word. Self promoting is a beastly job and requires patience and tenacity. These days, most authors have to self promote, so there's no getting out of it, unless you're Stephen King or Suzanne Collins. The work doesn't stop after you hit "Publish" -- you'll need to stay plugged into the industry and your social networks, as well as keep up with the advertising and book promotions that are working. Or you can just publish it and let it go. It depends on your goals. 
Which one do you think is the most important?

Yeah, it's the one about writing.

Keep writing. It saves lives.