7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Victoria Ceretto-Slotto

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Victoria Ceretto-Slotto) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

 


Victoria Ceretto-Slotto is a Nevada-based
writer whose first novel is currently being
shopped by her agent. See Victoria’s blog here.

 

1. Cultivate Beginner’s Mind. Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned writer, approach your work as though you were a novice. Read good writing in many genres. Subscribe to magazines such as Writer’s Digest. Devour books about the practice of writing. Reread classics and explore contemporary work. Give a book 50 pages then, if it isn’t working for you, put it aside. Never, ever become complacent. The day you believe you have arrived, you will cease to develop.

2. Refute the Myth of Writer’s Block. There are days when the last thing you want to do is face the ominous blank page—and sometimes that’s okay. But when one writing-free day leads to another and another, you are at risk of slipping into writer’s entropy. Devise a treatment plan that will free your creative muse from its self-imposed exile. Brainstorm with a friend; write a poem; revise a short story you’ve previously abandoned; take a walk in nature; pick random words from the dictionary and use all of them in a paragraph, poem or short, short story. Find a remedy that works for you.

3. Listen to Others, but Be True to Your Vision. Participation in critique groups and workshops is of immense value. Objective, balanced advice from fellow writers helps you develop your skills and improve your manuscript. Learn to listen to suggestions with an open mind and hone your ability to give feedback that is both constructive and encouraging. Take notes while your work is being reviewed. Soon after the session, correct typos, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, but defer making changes related to plot or character until you have completed your first draft. Hold onto the reins of your story: the plot, story arc and characters belong to you at this point. Don’t do radical surgery until you are know it will improve the prognosis of your story.

4. Embrace the Process of Revision but Keep on Writing. I wrote my first novel in a little over a year and revised for eight years before it was accepted by an agent. Don’t be afraid of the hard work of writing. Take a break after you’ve completed the first draft—let your manuscript gestate. Be creative in the process of revising and editing: read your novel aloud; read it backwards, beginning with the last chapter, to discover unresolved story lines and inconsistencies in characters; read it with a focus on grammar, on active verbs, on tightening the narrative, eliminating unnecessary adverbs and adjectives; look for word echoes—you get the idea. But, in the meantime, move forward. Outline your next novel or book proposal. Write in a different genre. Try to balance your time between the new and the old. Finally, know when it’s time to give birth.

5. Query with Care. You will save yourself some of the heartbreak of rejection if you attend well to the process of submitting your work. Ask other writers for feedback on your query letter, synopsis and outline. Make them as succinct and compelling as possible and tailor your presentation to the agents or publishers to whom you are submitting. Do a thorough review of their websites to assure that you are meeting their requirements and that your masterpiece matches the type of work that they represent. Don’t send more than they request. And when you’ve accumulated your fair share of rejections, keep on trying—don’t give up. If you’re lucky enough to receive a personalized note of rejection, consider any advice that’s been offered and if necessary, be willing to take another look at your manuscript and, if needed, initiate CPR.

6. Manage Your Time and Organize Your Space. The creative process can be messy, even chaotic. Disorganization, however, can take over our lives and waste time. How can you maximize efficiency? Develop processes that work for you such as computer files, folders for research and document back-up systems. Decide whether you will work from an outline or if you prefer to let your characters lead the way. Before beginning to write, consider fleshing out character profiles and detailed setting descriptions. Avoid or limit time-busters such as computer games, surfing the Internet and other writing-avoidance gimmicks that have inched their way into your routine. Finally, design or discover a sacred space that invites you to unleash your creativity.

7. Adjust Your Definition of Success. Ask a writer how they define success. You will hear responses ranging from winning a Pulitzer to multiple weeks on the NYT Bestseller List. While I couldn’t argue with those answers, I’d like to think that, along the way, we achieve many smaller successes. From my agented-but-not-yet-published place on the continuum, I’d like to focus on some of the other achievements that have had meaning in my writing life: making the effort to show up at the blank page, publishing my first short stories and poems in small literary journals, completing those first drafts, finding the perfect word that expresses what I want to say, experiencing the zone outside myself when the writing just happens guided by the creative Spirit, receiving a complimentary rejection, knowing at the end of the day I’ve worked toward what I’m here on earth to accomplish. Celebrate success!

 


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