7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Hollis Gillespie

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Hollis Gillespie, author of TRAILER TRASHED) 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.



Hollis Gillespie is an award-winning humor and
travel columnist, with her column appearing
every month on Atlanta
magazine’s coveted
back page. She is also a best-selling memoirist, NPR
commentator, professional speaker,
comedian and guest on the Tonight Show
with Jay Leno. She runs Shocking Real Life, the largest writing school in
Atlanta, which
offers workshops on blogging and social media. 
These days she gets most of her exercise running to catch flights.


1. Social and digital media are now essential as well as inescapable. As a writer, if you don’t update your skills so they include social and digital media then you might as well lumber off to your secret lair to languish with the other old elephants. If writing is your craft, these tools are now necessary for you to continue it. Other professions are subject to updatingyou don’t see doctors who cure fevers by blood-letting anymoreand writers are not exempt.

2. There is no such thing as a “finish line.” When you sell a book, you are creating a new job for yourself, one that will hopefully replace your old one. It almost doesn’t matter how successful you become, you still never feel relaxed enough to rest on your accolades. There have been times as recently as, like, yesterday, when I’ve told myself that if the restaurant where I waited tables in college knocked on my door right now offering me my apron back, I’d jump at it.

3. Literary agents have very, very specific needs when it comes to material. When you pitch an agent, you have to make sure your material is perfectly in line with the genres she represents. Most likely, that agent has cultivated relationships with publishers that specialize in a very particular line of books. When considering an agent to pitch, at the very minimum make sure there is a book in her client list that strongly compares to your own manuscript.

4. No one is going to steal your memoir idea. Stop worrying about that.

5. No one is going to sue you for how you portrayed them in your memoir. Stop worrying about that. They might not like what you said about them, but since when is it illegal to have a low opinion of someone? I usually put it to my students this way, “If someone in your life has behaved like a volcanic @sshole, you’re not legally liable just because you noticed.”

6. Fear is the most creatively corrosive element that writers have to face each day, and it comes disguised as so many things. The one I see encountered most often has a lot to do with #5 above. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a student recount the most fascinatingand marketablelife story, only to insist they can’t write about it because they’re afraid of how it will be taken.

7. It helps to write your story as though no one will read it. That goes a long way toward solving #5 and #6 above.



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