7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Celeste Holloway

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Celeste Holloway, author of SEBASTIAN FALLS) 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.

GIVEAWAY: Celeste is excited to give away 2 free copies of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: kstjshin won.)


celeste-holloway-sebastian-falls   celeste-hollaway-author-writer

Celeste Holloway is the author of SEBASTIAN FALLS, a YA
urban fantasy published by World Castle. Mother to the best kid
on the planet and Master to the fluffiest cat, Celeste lives a quiet
life in Arkansas, but dreams of world travel. To learn more about
Celeste and Sebastian Falls, visit her blog. She also loves
connecting with writers & readers on Twitter.




1. Beta readers don’t hate you. I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere between draft one and three, I quit making voodoo dolls to replicate my betas and removed the pins from their eyes because I wanted them to see my mistakes. In the early stages, I viewed my greatest assets as enemies. Today, if a beta fails to find fault in my stories, I question their mental state and look for someone to replace them. To improve, we need honest readers, who aren’t afraid to point out our flaws.

2. You need somebody to share your burden. Friends are an important part of life, but for the kind of journey we’re on, no ordinary BFF will do. Only writer-friends understand the lingering sting of rejection, the importance of a stellar query letter, and how easy it is to fall in love with your protagonist’s boyfriend/girlfriend. They’re also the best sympathizers/drill sergeants during those, “I give up!” moments. So, if you don’t have a local writer’s group, find one on line. That’s where I met my best writer buddy, and she’s crawled through the depths of writer’s hell with me and back.

(Literary terms defined — the uncommon and common.)

3. Stop beating yourself up. By the time I reached my seventh draft of Sebastian Falls, I was a hair butchering maniac. I owned a beauty salon—a life-sucking pit that I viewed as the obstacle keeping me from publication. Either my husband grew tired of the permanent snarl on my face, or he was afraid I’d end up like Sweeney Todd, (joking, no need to alert the FBI) so he took down my sign and told me to write. I did, but for a while, I struggled with what I thought people were saying or thinking about me. Did they think I was lazy? Were they laughing at me? This sort of negativity is addictive and gets out of hand quick. Eventually, I decided people probably didn’t have time to worry about me, and if they did, so what? If somebody wants me to fail, that’s all the more reason to succeed. Same goes for anyone reading this. Your life belongs to you. Regardless of what anybody else thinks, you have a right to choose your path.

4. There’s no right way. I wish there was, but there isn’t. What works for one writer, may or may not work for another. I’ve tried the whole outline thing, but my brain goes nuts, starts threatening seizures if I don’t cease and desist. Still, once upon a time, I wanted to be more writer-like—have some sort of method to discuss with artsy type people. So, I tried character sketching. Ha! Not a good plan for somebody that can only draw stick figures. What matters is what gets the story out. For me, it’s not having a plan. I let the characters hold my brain hostage. Then I force them out. Find your system. Stick to it.

5. Don’t put a time limit on your dreams. Like an idiot, I thought I’d write my book, do a few edits, and get published. In my mind, this would all go down in a year. Four years later, I signed my contract. I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache with a more realistic goal. You should do what I didn’t do.

6. Believe the impossible. While I said to be realistic about time frames, I didn’t say we have to settle for mediocrity. No dream ever came true without someone believing in it first. So, I say, let’s put in the work to become the best we can be. Then, let’s cheer as we watch each other climb to the top! The moon is the limit! Don’t Stop!

(See a list of writers conferences where agents will be.)

7. Arrogance isn’t cool. Confidence is great. As writers, we need it. We also need humility. Nobody wants to work with a know-it-all. I don’t care how awesome a writer is, there’s always room for improvement and ways we can help each other. I used to see an author on a lot of different blogs, and she had a habit of griping at unpublished writers for asking how she arrived in her successful position. Keep in mind, these were also her fans. It didn’t take long for the public to tire of her abuse. Her sales dropped, and she disappeared. Kindness goes a long way, especially to fans and followers, so be sweet.

GIVEAWAY: Celeste is excited to give away 2 free copies of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: kstjshin won.)


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39 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Celeste Holloway

  1. Violet

    Some good advice here! Especially #7 Believe the impossible. Too often writers allow “real life” to discourage them. Why am I bothering ? is something I often hear.

    Great collumn!
    Violet Pheonix – The Scibe’s Best Friend: Freelance Editor

  2. kstjshin

    I’ve known unpublished writers who acted like they knew everything about writing and getting published. I would ask myself, “If this is the perfect way to do something then why are they not published yet?” Now I just kinda go it alone with some help here and there by another writer friend who’s struggling along the same as anybody.

    Whenever people ask me what my job is I fall back on the old “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” I feel weird telling people I’m a writer because then they ask what I’ve written and, except for some online articles, I have no answer for them. Then I imagine their impression becomes “lazy dreamer, wake up and get a real job.” I guess I need to steel myself and grit my teeth until I’m not embarrassed of how others think of me.

    It was helpful reading about the same things I go through and think about. Thank you!!

  3. Margiemay

    Love what you said about not needing an outline! I’m the same way. I tried that approach, but it just seemed to stifle the creative process. Works for some people, but not for me! Thanks for your interesting column. Can’t wait to read your book!

    1. choll1

      Hey, Mariemay!

      It’s nice to know I’m not the only writer that starts a story, having no idea where it will end up! I can’t wait for you to read my book either! 🙂

  4. FloweryHedgehog

    It’s funny about #3, because when I tell people I’m writing, they usually seem impressed, and I find myself rushing to downplay what I’m doing. “It’s only a first draft, I’m not even really sure where it’s going yet, really it’s still at a very early stage.” Which is all true, but I think it’s verging on putting myself down as a writer.

    On the other hand, when my daughter asks me what I want to be when I grow up, I delight in telling her I want to be an author and write books.

    1. choll1


      Even though I’m a writer, I’m still impressed by other writer’s ability to write, lol. It all blows my mind how we are able to put so much time, emotion, and energy into our work. That being said, let it shine! We work hard and deserve a pat on the back every once in awhile. 🙂

  5. DanielJayBerg

    Thanks for sharing your insight! It seems like the writer’s life should have a healthy balance of optimism, realism, confidence and humility.

    1. choll1

      I agree, DanielJayBerg!

      It’s definitely a balancing act! I’d like to think if I’m ever rich and famous, (I can dream) that I’ll remain humble. And I’m glad you mentioned optimism. Sometimes, it’s the hardest to come by. 🙂

    2. erifnosmirc

      This is probably the most astute comment in this article. I know I definitely beat myself up a lot over every failure, and I’m so afraid of showing any confidence in my work in case it verges on the arrogance mentioned in the end. It’s very much a vicious cycle.

  6. patrickhanford

    I am an unpublished writer with a completed novel and a short story. It took years to finish the novel with many lapses in writing but after that I was inspired and wrote the short story in days and now working on others. I think making lists help and just believing in myself. I was afraid to “reveal” my self and soul for potential embarrassment. After telling my wife I finished the novel she encouraged me to send to family. They are all readers and gave great critique but as you say I need others more distant from me. Thanks for the list. It tells me I am not alone in my happy thoughts of writer psychosis.

    1. choll1

      Patrickhanford, LOL!!!! Psychosis, indeed! I think we have to have other writers in our lives to point out how normal it is for us writers to get a little nutsy in the head sometimes. That’s what makes us unique, or that’s what I like to tell myself, anyway. Good luck with all your writing ventures! Don’t give up, and you will reach all your goals! 🙂

    1. choll1

      For sure, Rachel129m! I think it’s common for us to compare ourselves to other writers and their journeys, but that’s crazy because no trip through the trenches is ever the same. 🙂

    1. choll1

      Mikalibur, you make me feel wise, lol! Thanks for taking time to read and comment. 🙂 Good luck on your writing journey! I wish you tons of success! 🙂

  7. Pattypans

    Celeste, thank you for your feet-on-the-ground, workable, common-sense advice. I have a few questions. If you don’t answer me, I’ll understand; if you do, thank you!

    Re #1: I totally believe this. But I’m dying to know where one can find Beta readers. Friends and family? Or is elsewhere better, and if so, where?

    Re #2: I’m looking for a writer’s group. Tried to inspire one among fellow students in the only creative writing class I’ve ever taken (online), and while some great people were interested, they didn’t really have time. I was the only one doing anything with it and I sort of gave up. I’ve been wondering how to find a trustworthy writer’s group online; I’m especially concerned with the possibility of getting work I put online stolen. Any counsel on this? (Local’s not very feasible in my case.)

    Re #5: I’ve learned vital life lessons about not putting a time limit on your dreams. If your goal is not accomplished in your time frame, you must not give up, or consider yourself as having failed!
    Re #7: How good to hear someone extol humility. Again, this goes in all areas of life.

    Thanks again, Celeste, for some profound insights that apply to life in general, and not just to the life of a writer.

    1. choll1

      Pattypans!!!! I feel your pain! I live in a small town, so finding a local writing group was out of the question. Determined to saturate myself with all things writerly, I took to Twitter and an agent’s group on Yahoo, which is where I met my best writer friend. If you want, look me up on Twitter and Facebook, and I’ll help you find a whole mess of writers who are willing to critique and lend the much needed shoulders to cry on. As for anybody stealing your work, no worries. I used to think the same thing, in the beginning, but technically anything that goes from your mind to paper/computer is considered your intellectual property. Sorry it took me so long to respond. I hope this answers your questions, and I look forward to hearing from you. 🙂

  8. papa55mike

    its funny, people do you look at you like your lazy. they question you on why don’t you have a full time job. are you out of your mind, you’ll never make it. you don’t do any work, just sit there and type. i wish it was that easy.

    wishing you continued success and God bless.

    1. choll1

      Papa55mike, you and me both! If it were easy, we’d all have perfect 1st drafts and pigs would fly, lol. Anybody who says writing is easy, clearly, has never written anything over a paragraph in length. Thanks for the well-wishes. God bless you too, friend. 🙂

  9. jvdlandersen

    What? No outline! 😉 I can’t live without mine. Your book is stellar, and awesome and all sorts of incredible. Congrats on your publication. Can’t wait for the next one.

  10. Clae

    Good advice. Always good to be reminded that just because I work at the pace of a wounded turtle and can’t write from an outline doesn’t mean I won’t succeed.

    1. choll1

      Hey, Sara_Mariah! #3 gets to us all at times. We are the only ones standing in between us and our dreams. We just have to tell “doubt” to shut up and press ahead! Happy writing! 🙂

  11. Christina Kit.

    Lots of wise words there! Totally right about beta readers – the pickier they are, the more they love you:)

    Be kind! Always:)) That’s advice that will always be right:)

    The book sounds awesome:)

    1. choll1

      Christina Kit, hello, and thanks for the compliment! Sweetie-pie beta readers are no more useful than ice in Antarctica, lol! The snippier, the better! I hope you have good ones like mine. 🙂

  12. Christina Kit.

    Totally agree about how beta readers are valuable, and the more input they give, the better they are and the more they care about your work. They’re also the best way to get what readers will want.

    And of course, be kind!! To everyone – I think that’s the one thing that will really get people to become true fans.

    The book sounds awesome!!

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com


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