People who have written for years are generally only too happy to give advice regarding the act of writing. The advice is mostly focused on the fundamentals of the craft– storytelling, word usage, story arc, editing and revising.
Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are important, along with the hundreds of other bits of advice people offer on the subject. But what about more practical advice? Personally, I think it’s about time to focus on what it takes to survive the process itself.
Some of the practical advice that made my short list:
Writing is not something that can be treated like a Stairmaster.
You can’t just plug your writing in, shift the pile of sweatshirts you’ve hung from it over the last few months and take it out for a spin. Well, yes, you can, but you can’t expect your writing to ever hit its peak of productivity if you don’t properly exercise your writing muscles. Just like a runner, your writing muscles need constant use. And just like with running, if you’re only writing a few times a month, you will find it difficult to produce those pages with a stitch in your side.
Darkness Knows Me, the first novel in my Olivia Gates-Will Green crime series, was slow going, and I found it difficult to come back and settle into writing mode when I hadn’t been diligent about writing regularly. When I finally decided to start treating my writing as if it were a 9 to 5 job, five days a week, I saw a vast improvement in the amount of work I was able to finish and the quality of that work.
Most writers may not have the schedule needed to treat their writing like a full time job, but adhering to a regular writing schedule, whether an hour a day or several hours a week, will help maintain your writing muscles and improve your overall work production. I guarantee it.
Writing is not for the thin of skin.
If you can’t endure being told that the “baby” you’ve given birth to, suckled and nurtured over the last several years is ugly, has no ears to speak of and a nose the size of an eggplant (and not a baby eggplant either), then writing is probably not for you.
What I’ve learned over the years is to look at each suggestion or criticism, whether from an editor or reviewer, as a chance for growth and not a personal attack. What can I take away from this comment that will make me a better writer and storyteller? There is usually always something to be gained from sincere criticism.
Case in point; when my editor sent back the edited manuscript for Angels Sing to Rest (the second novel in my crime series), he kindly pointed out that I have a tendency to write stage direction, rather than description and that I can sometimes go overboard with what description I do write. I reread the sections he pointed out as examples, and sure enough, he was right. What can you say when the evidence is staring you in the face? I went back through the manuscript keeping his suggestions in mind.
Writing is not for the faint of heart.
Not all writers are intentionally reclusive beings and not all of us yearn for the same level of isolation as Hunter J. Thompson or Thomas Pinchon. But writing has an inherently lonely side to it, which I hadn’t been forced to acknowledge until I started writing full time.
A sort of single-mindedness comes along with a writer’s territory. Meaning that it requires a lot of focus, perseverance and the ability to say, “I can’t, I’m writing,” especially on those occasions when your bestie wants to go to lunch to catch you up on the fun and gossip you’ve missed during your self -imposed seclusion.
Stay strong, my brothers and sisters! The deprivation and isolation will have been worth it when your book is finished.
Writing is subjective . . .
so don’t go getting all weirded out over every little remark a reviewer or editor makes about your writing style or your word choices or . . . or . . .
Not everyone will enjoy your storytelling and the sooner you take that notion on a date and reconcile yourself to the fact that not everyone you meet will find your date attractive, the happier and freer you’ll feel.
There is such a thing as “too much” editing.
Take this however you will, but perfection is not attainable in this world. Over-editing is a real problem with authors. What starts out as a story about a boy and his girl, their struggles, their joys, can easily be hacked away at until what’s left is a guide to desert motorcycle repair using only a straw and a gum wrapper.
You laugh, but it’s true. Authors can be their own worst enemies when it comes to edits and revisions. Angels Sing to Rest suffered horribly under the effects of my delete button once I began its first round of edits. In trying to follow my editor’s suggestion of lowering the novel’s word count, I cut what I believed to be a superfluous story line, back-filled and redirected the other story lines. Unfortunately, when all was done and dusted, I had cut nearly 15,000 words too many. The mistake was easy to fix, but it didn’t stop me from fretting over whether the cut had been a good decision. Fortunately, my trusted beta readers read the story again and agreed the novel was greatly improved through the culling.
Killing your “darlings” is a good thing.
Yes, I’m talking about those words or sections of your book that you find particularly pithy or so well written that you can’t possibly bear putting them on the chopping block when the word count is in need of a good pruning.
Those “precious little darlings” can easily detract from the story you’re so carefully crafting. And why would you want to purposefully detract from your story? Let them go, all of them if need be, and discover just how freeing it can feel.
Writing shouldn’t require wrestling with your editor.
Editing is not meant to be a death match, fought between you and your editor, for the heavyweight championship of the book world. If chairs are flying and the foul smell of hormones and Axe body spray is poisoning the air, making your nose bleed, you’ve clearly stepped into a WWF fight ring and not onto the peaceful field of exchanging edits and revisions.
I have not experienced this with my own editor, but I have author friends who have, and it’s not a healthy relationship. You and your editor are meant to be a team. If the two of you throw down nearly every time you exchange notes on your manuscript, it might be time to find another writing partner.
And yes, it’s okay to let your editor go.
Writing a great novel does not guarantee you will be published or successful.
In fact, chances are very good that even if you manage to write a great novel, you won’t become a prominent writer or live in a mansion or become close friends with Brangelina or be capable of buying more than a burger with your book earnings. What writing a great novel will guarantee is that the process of creating that wonderful story will be difficult, frustrating, heart-wrenching and ego shredding, and yet it will be one of the most personal and rewarding things you’ll ever do in your life.
There you have it; the list of things I wish I had known when I first began writing. I hope you found the advice helpful.