If you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?
The first thing Iâ€™d tell myself is this: 1.Thereâ€™s no silver bullet to writing a good novel. Iâ€™m sure this is obvious to most writers starting out, but it was a surprisingly difficult lesson for me to learn because Iâ€™m the kind of person who thinks you can do just about anything if you learn the right rules.
I love rules. I love organization. I cling to clearly defined goals, and I take intense pleasure in being able to track progress. So when I set my mind to the task of writing a novel, my first and strongest instinct was to search out the set of writing rules I thought would pave the way.
I enrolled in classes, I signed up for workshops, I read craft books, and I attended conferences. I absorbed as much knowledge as possible, assuming it would naturally lead to great writing. Then Iâ€™d sit at the keyboard, and Iâ€™d wait for the captivating words and an elegantly composed storyline to magically appear beneath my fingertips. And Iâ€™d wait. Eventually Iâ€™d type something, and inevitably it fell short of the kind of brilliance I was expecting.
I told myself that could only mean one thing: I hadnâ€™t yet found the right rules. So I took more classes, signed up for more workshops, read more books, and attended more conferences. Then I tried again. By then I was so full of rules, I froze at the keyboard. Instead of letting the story flow, I analyzed and overanalyzed every word I wrote. You can imagine the number that did on my creativity.
I would have saved myself a lot of timeâ€”and frustrationâ€”if I could tell my earlier self that writing is just plain hard work, and there are no rules or shortcuts that will erase that fact. The only way to produce good writing is to writeâ€”a lotâ€”and to find your own rhythm and style in the words.
Here are a few other things Iâ€™d tell myself:
2.Hard and fast rules donâ€™t exist when it comes to writing fiction. For every rule out there, you can find examples of brilliant stories that break that rule. Look at the classics or scan through the bestsellers, and youâ€™re sure to find these novels break some rule or another. A better goal is to be aware of the rules, but write knowing that you must stay true to your own sense of what works for your story and your characters.
3.Forget the old adage â€œwrite what you know.â€ Iâ€™ve found itâ€™s more important to write about what you love, what excites you, or what youâ€™re dying to learn more about. Writing about something that excites you or that is a new discovery for you will naturally elevate your writing. If itâ€™s a topic that is truly brand new to you, however, research it well enough to write about it authoritatively.
4. Donâ€™t settle for getting your manuscript in reasonably good shape with the belief that an agent and editor will see the potential and help you perfect it. If youâ€™re lucky enough to get interest from an agent and/or an editor, he or she is looking for work that is already polished. Donâ€™t be tempted to send out a manuscript that isnâ€™t ready.
5. Remember why you started writing in the first place. If youâ€™re like me, you began writing because you took pleasure in the act of writing itself. Yet somewhere along the lineâ€”after weâ€™ve taken a bunch of classes and workshops and joined critique groups and stumbled through multiple draftsâ€”you might become convinced that getting the story into print is The Most Important Thing. But it isnâ€™t, not really. Building a world with nothing more than words and your imagination is an amazing and tremendously gratifying thing in and of itself, and that should be honored whether it leads to publication or not.
Very nice post – sometimes you need to get back to the basics and remember how and why you write. Sometimes you think you'll just throw more classes at the writing and it'll magically lead to publishing. Thanks for validating what I've been thinking. 🙂