This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from NYT-bestselling novelist Carrie Vaughn.
Carrie is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Diane won.)
author. Discord’s Apple (Tor Books; starred review in
PW) was recently released in paperback, while Steel
(HarperTeen) is her new YA book released in March
2011. See Carrie’s website here.
1. Have a plan. Have a picture in mind of the kind of career you want, the kind of writer you want to be. This will help you make tough decisions when you reach crossroads—choosing an agent, deciding to accept deals. If you find other people wanting you to do work that doesn’t fit with your plan for yourself, you may be better served staying true to yourself.
2. Learn to say no. There was a time I thought I’d never say this, when I’d grab every opportunity to come along. But you may find yourself getting overbooked and burned out, like I almost did. It’s okay to say no to projects and deals. Writers can feel pretty powerless in the big corporate world of publishing, but sometimes our greatest power is the ability to say no.
3. Go big or go home. Don’t hold back in your writing. Take risks. Go ahead and tackle that crazy idea that you think will never fly, because that may be the one that makes you stand out from the crowd. Keep pushing the envelope. Don’t go with your first or second idea, go with your fifteenth or sixteenth. I have a little voice in the back of my head, and when it says, “This is crazy, no one will go for it,” I know I’m on the right track.
4. Set goals you can actually accomplish. “I will finish the new novel and start submitting it by the end of the year” is a good goal because you can control what needs to happen to accomplish it. “My new book will hit the New York Times bestseller list” is a terrible goal because you have no control over it. It’s a good milestone to aim for, but don’t set yourself up for feeling like a miserable failure if it doesn’t actually happen.
5. Aim high. Keep aiming high. Query your dream agent. Submit to the most prestigious, highest-paying market first. Tackle the big project that scares you. If you sell yourself short before you even start, you’ll never know how far you could have gone. Ambition is a wonderful thing, and has gotten me farther than I ever thought I’d go. To quote one of my favorite characters in science fiction, Miles Vorkosigan: “Aim high. You may still miss the target, but at least you won’t shoot your foot off.”
6. Plot and character are the same thing. A story’s actions should arise out of the decisions and reactions those particular characters make. Different characters would drive the story in a different direction. Why are these things happening to these particular people and not someone else? Changing the characters, the kinds of people they are, would change the story. If the events of a story would happen no matter who the characters are, then the characters have no impact on what happens, and why should I want to read about them?
7. Read, and analyze what you read. If you love a book, why? If you hate a book, why? Is it the language, the tone, the characters? The idiot plot? Bad dialogue? If a book is so beautifully written it makes you cry, look at it paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence. How did the author do that? How can you do it? How can you avoid other writers’ mistakes? If you hate it when books do x, y, or z, for goodness sake don’t do that in your own writing!
“Elements of Fiction” books in
one discount bundle. It’s a great
comprehensive starter set for writers.