7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Helene Wicker

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Helen Wicker, author of THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI) 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: Helene is excited to give away a free copy 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: SammySammo won.)

 

golem-and-jinni-cover        helene-wecker-author-writer

Helene Wecker grew up in suburban Chicago, and received her Bachelor’s in
English from Carleton College in Minnesota. In 2007 she received her Master’s
in Fiction from Columbia University. After a dozen years spent bouncing between
both coasts and the Midwest, she’s finally putting down roots in the San Francisco
Bay Area, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Helene’s first novel,
THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, was published by HarperCollins and named an
Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2013. Find her on Twitter.

 

 

1. Write everything down. I’m in the grocery store, staring vaguely at the produce, when the heavens open up and a great writing idea lands in my brain. I know I should stop and write it down. But isn’t that a little weird, to pull out my notebook in the middle of the Safeway? I’ll look like a moody Goth kid scribbling in her diary. Besides, this is such a great idea, there’s no way will I forget it. And then, guess what? I forget it.

2. A routine is best, but don’t beat yourself up about it. God knows, it’s good to have a routine. But there are times when, for whatever reason, it all falls to pieces. The worst thing to do is to mire yourself in guilt. That just breeds resentment, which pushes the writing further away. Instead I try to mentally tag the place in my life where the writing belongs, and put it back there as soon as I can.

(Learn how to protect yourself when considering a independent editor for your book.)

3. “Touch” your writing every day. This comes courtesy of David Ebershoff, novelist, editor, and teacher extraordinaire. I was near the end of my MFA program, and nervous about leaving my structured student life. How would I concentrate on my book without a workshop to keep me honest? He said, “You have to touch your book every day, even if you aren’t writing. Look over the last few pages. Think about the characters. Keep it fresh in your mind.” I’ve tried to follow that ever since.

4. Read as much as you can, as widely as you can, as closely as you can. When I haven’t been reading enough (too busy, a shredded attention span, whatever) my writing suffers, every single time. I try to read books both like and completely unlike whatever I’m working on. If something about the writing irritates me, I try to figure out why, and how I would fix it. If a book sends me into paroxysms of delight, I try to figure out how the author did it, and then file the information away for future use.

5. My gut sends me messages, and I ought to listen to them. For the first few years of writing THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, I had a weird, niggling feeling about the Golem’s character. She was just boring. Too much like a machine. But I kept pushing it aside, telling myself I was being over-critical, when the truth was I just didn’t want to believe it. Finally, three different test readers told me the same thing: We don’t care enough about the Golem. At that point I became so depressed I nearly gave up. I forced myself to think about the problem, and within a week I’d figured out a solution – but it involved starting over from the beginning. If I’d listened to my gut earlier, I might have saved myself a whole lot of pain and anguish.

(How long should you wait before following up with an agent?)

6. Take care of yourself. Confession: I am horrible at this. When my life gets crazy, the first thing I jettison is self-care. Many of us take a grim, perverse pride in running ourselves down, but that isn’t worth much when I’m running on empty, snapping at my loved ones, and unable to concentrate. The trick is learning how to do self-care in bite-sized chunks. I used to think I had to meditate for at least 45 minutes, or it wouldn’t be worth it. Now I set my watch for 15 or 20 minutes tops. Otherwise it just won’t happen, and 15 minutes is a lot better than zero.

7. Sometimes it pays to put all your eggs in one basket. There were times – years, even – when writing THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI felt deeply irresponsible. I was freelancing part-time so I could write, and it barely paid my bills. My husband kept a roof over our heads, but my finances were still a major stressor for us both. Two things kept me writing. One, deep down I believed in the book. And two, the only thing that frightened me more than my bank account was the thought of giving up, retreating to an office job, and telling my family and friends I’m sorry, I couldn’t hack it. Maybe it was an unhealthy attitude. (Also, we didn’t have a kid back then. Kids change the equation.) But I know I wouldn’t have been so focused on finishing the book if I hadn’t gotten rid of the safety net.

GIVEAWAY: Helene is excited to give away a free copy 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: SammySammo won.)

 

What could be better than one guide on crafting
fiction from wise agent Donald Maass? Two books!
We bundle them together at a discount in our shop.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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34 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Helene Wicker

  1. Storylady

    What great advice! I get overwhelmed with all the stuff I have to do and may go weeks without looking at what I’ve written. Then I find I have no idea what I want to do with the story. Thanks sooooo much for your 7 tips, but especially for sharing “touch your writing every day.” Huge help. Can’t wait to read your book.

  2. kblenkush

    Wonderful advice! I know I’ve been guilty of not writing an idea down…and forgetting it later. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

    And The Golem and the Jinni is now on my GoodReads “to read” shelf.

  3. HopefulWriter

    I already do most of these suggestions already; yet, I still struggle. That limited self-esteem is a real pain in the brain. Your ideas, though, instill inspiration. I would love to win the book, but I might just look it up, as well. Thanks for sharing!

  4. RachelA

    Great tips! I keep tumbling them over and over in my head like a little mantra. We all need to focus on whatever it is we want to grown, no? Thanks for the post. Congrats on your book.

  5. cotidiano

    I have the PlainText app on my phone so I can make story notes anywhere and then have them automatically appear in Dropbox on my computer! It’s too easy to lose sheets of paper nowadays.

  6. Patrece

    I feel like a lost soul many times. I want my book to be a priority, but my financial matters don’t really care what I want. There must be a happy medium, until (hopefully) success comes along! Glad you made it!!!!

  7. Jeri Baird

    Thanks Helene – this is one of the best columns I’ve read! Especially agree with listening to your gut. So many times someone has pointed out something in my writing and I go – yeah, I knew that. I just wasn’t listening.

  8. kunawriter

    Love these! This is my second year doing the nanowrimo, and the ideas for both books came to me in those wee hours of the morning between sleep and waking. I learned at a young age, thanks to my mom, to keep a journal by my bed.

    I really like the idea about “touching” your book everyday. Some days (except during nanowrimo) I don’t leave myself a lot of time to write (or edit, which i dread), so the idea of “touching” the book, thinking about the characters, is wonderful!

    Can’t wait to read your book!

    Thanks!

  9. frj4833

    Hi Helene

    Thanks for giving such great advice! Unfortunately, I have my best ideas when I am in the shower. And when I get out of the bathroom, I get distracted by something or someone and poof! the ideas are gone.

    Any suggestions on this?

    I look forward to reading your book!

  10. echristiansen

    This is a fantastic list and I can especially appreciate #1. As a therapist for teens, I experienced incredibly frustrating and ridiculous situations in the county system and wished I would’ve written them all down. What a treasure trove of ideas I would have! 🙂 I’ve started writing ideas down now and have a lot to draw from Great advice!

  11. crials

    I really enjoyed this piece. In particular, I found the piece about not drowning in guilt for getting off track useful. I also like your advice to touch the book every day. I plan to put your words into practice. Thanks!

  12. Tryllyam

    My husband just finished reading the book – a copy he got from the library – and said that it was really good and well researched. The look on his face when I told him I had a chance to win a copy was priceless!

    And finally listening to your gut (and your test readers) must have really paid off, because he’s a great critic. If something wasn’t right about the story, he would have just told me.

  13. jnaszady

    Helene, your advice is sensible and timely for me. Sacrifices must always be made, and it does feel selfish to pursue a pet project when there is so much else on the practical side of life that must be done. But if not now, when? I am learning to give myself permission to spend the time when inspiration strikes-it is a rare thing which must be given life!

    Joan

  14. Haypher

    I can’t tell you how many times I would wake up at night with a great idea – so great, I mean seriously, how could I forget it. Except I did. So now I have a journal by my bed.

    I hate writers block. It’s when I don’t fight it that I break through it.

    I love your ideas. I’ll put them to the task ;o) BTW your book is on my wish list for Christmas woohoo baby!!!

  15. Firefly123

    Helene Wecker, you are truly inspirational! Your tips are like snippets from my own life with the difference being that you did not give up! I have always been afraid to put all the eggs in one basket needing to keep an “escape” plan handy. That has worked to deter me, not help. Between your words of wisdom and my own self revelation I now change that perspective. Doing what I must to survive is being responsible in a personal and social world, doing what I must for me is to write in the grocery store, the doctor’s office, whenever and where ever inspiration hits. Thank you!

  16. Vicky

    Helene,

    Thanks for the wonderful advice!! I can definitely use your bits of wisdom. Writing is tough, but it can be so rewarding too! So, I’ll keep writing…..

    Happy Holidays,
    Vicky

  17. jenay56

    Every single tip resonates with me. I am learning to trust my gut more. Putting all my eggs in one basket is frightening but great advice. Thank you and best of luck!

  18. OkieWriter

    Your no. 1 is definitely on the top of my list. I cannot tell you how many times I just knew I would never forget something and then, of course, I did. I now always have a pen and some paper nearby . . . always!! I even have it in bed with me at night. I do not sleep well and have awaken during the night with a thought and have written it down right away. By the way, I really like the blue pages in your book. I had borrowed it from the library when it first came out but did not get to finish it before I had to return it. Please pick me so I can finish it now!!

  19. Writecastles

    Funny, your book just came up on my library holds list. Rather excited about the texture of the pages which isn’t something I normally say on a book’s first impression. Thanks for these tips Helene.

  20. vrundell

    Hi Helene,
    Thanks so much for your encouraging words and story. For those of us still striving, we know perseverance is key, but can easily lose sight when the path seems never ending.
    Best of luck with your book and career as a novelist.
    Veronica
    http://vsreads.com

  21. Lina Moder

    Helene is so so right that listening to your gut is so important – especially when it comes to a character like what Helene was facing.

    It’s awesome she went back and revised and stuck with it!! Golems are very new in fiction – it sounds like a unique concept!:)

    Thank you:)

    linamoder at gmail dot com

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