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Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author

June 22, 2009 by in category Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author by Shauna Roberts tagged as ,

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Deanna Cameron

If you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

The first thing I’d tell myself is this: 1. There’s no silver bullet to writing a good novel. I’m sure this is obvious to most writers starting out, but it was a surprisingly difficult lesson for me to learn because I’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 I’d sit at the keyboard, and I’d wait for the captivating words and an elegantly composed storyline to magically appear beneath my fingertips. And I’d wait. Eventually I’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 hadn’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 time—and frustration—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 write—a lot—and to find your own rhythm and style in the words.

Here are a few other things I’d tell myself:

2. Hard and fast rules don’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 you’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 “write what you know.” I’ve found it’s more important to write about what you love, what excites you, or what you’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 it’s a topic that is truly brand new to you, however, research it well enough to write about it authoritatively.

4. Don’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 you’re lucky enough to get interest from an agent and/or an editor, he or she is looking for work that is already polished. Don’t be tempted to send out a manuscript that isn’t ready.

5. Remember why you started writing in the first place. If you’re like me, you began writing because you took pleasure in the act of writing itself. Yet somewhere along the line—after we’ve taken a bunch of classes and workshops and joined critique groups and stumbled through multiple drafts—you might become convinced that getting the story into print is The Most Important Thing. But it isn’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.


To learn more about DeAnna Cameron, please visit her Web page at http://www.DeAnnaCameron.com or her blog at http://DeAnnaCameron.blogspot.com. You can preorder her July 7 release, The Belly Dancer, at your local bookstore or online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

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