7 Things I’ve Learned so Far, by Jenn Bishop

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Jenn Bishop, author of DISTANCE TO HOME) 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.

Jenn Bishop, debut author of the middle-grade novel THE DISTANCE TO HOME (June 2016, Knopf) is a former youth services and teen librarian. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English, and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Jenn lives just outside of Boston, where she roots for the Red Sox. Follow Jenn on Twitter.

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1. Querying is just the first step of many. It’s so easy to fall into the rabbit hole of researching agents and fine-tuning your query that you can forget that getting an agent isn’t the true end game. It’s just the beginning of the publishing journey. When I think of all the hours I spent obsessing over the agent search (i.e. way more than necessary), I wish I’d spent a bit more of that time writing (deadline-free!) and reading.

2. You only get to debut once. While it’s not at all true that you only get one shot—your first book—it is true that promotionally speaking, you only get to debut once. So, why not take the chance and join one of several debut groups for middle-grade and young adult writers? They’re a great resource for sharing with other people going through the journey in the same year as you.

3. Educators (teachers and librarians) are your friends. Once your book has sold and you’re on Twitter, it’s easy to feel like you don’t know where to start. It can seem so vast and busy and like everyone’s having a conversation with each other and you’re standing in the corner by the snack table. Your people are on Twitter, but they aren’t just your fellow writers. Librarians and teachers are huge readers and people you want to connect with. It took me a little while to realize how much they want to connect with emerging writers, and how much their students can take away from writers sharing their experiences.


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4. Make time for writing, because promotion can and will take over. My debut book came out in late June, and I feel like I’m still recovering from the launch and subsequent promotional activities. It’s a real shift to go from primarily focused on the creation of a thing and then putting that thing into the real world. It takes time to figure out a new normal, but it’s important nevertheless to squeeze in the writing time. Acknowledge that your prepublication writing schedule may not work in this new reality. Experiment. Don’t box yourself in. Get the words on the page however and whenever possible.

5. Always have a next thing. Even if it’s just something you’re dabbling in, have something you’re excited to work on waiting in the wings. One of the biggest shifts once you are under contract is that you no longer have complete control over your writing timeline. There are deadlines and waiting periods. I find that the stove metaphor is an apt one; I always have projects at different stages of completion on various burners.

6. Keep reading for the joy of it. It’s so easy to feel the pressure of trying to read all the cool new books that everyone’s talking about. So easy that it can quickly turn into a chore. Seek out the books that truly appeal to you in the moment. Seek the books that feed your writing and your soul. Only good things can come of that.

7. Step away from the computer. It’s easy to feel like you aren’t doing enough on social media as an author, but it’s unlikely that social media truly fills your well. Never mind what foul moods can arise from spending too much time on Facebook or Twitter during an election year. Take time to do the things that feed your creativity. Cook. Go for a long walk. Meet up with friends. Check out that art exhibit you keep seeing ads for on TV. You never know what may act as inspiration for your next project.

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Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

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