7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Holly Schindler

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Holly Schindler, author of A BLUE SO DARK) 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.


Holly Schindler‘s debut YA novel, A Blue So Dark,
received a starred review from
Booklist and
was released in May 2010 (Flux). Holly has
two more novels set for publication in 2011.
See her website here.

1. Know who you’re writing for. This is especially important in the YA genre. Don’t think that you can write a contemporary YA novel based on what you remember of contemporary YA novels written twenty years ago. The YA genre has changed drastically in recent years—as has teen culture!  Read as much current YA as you can. And check out the YA book blogging community to find out which current books teens are loving and connecting with—many YA book blogs are often written by teens!

2. Shortcuts do not exist. Writing takes time. There’s no way around that. Most YA novels are around 55,000-60,000 words. And once you’ve written 60,000 words, you’ve got to rewrite your draft. And edit that. And then find a publisher who loves it (which often takes as long—or longer—than writing and editing the book). And after you ink the deal? Count on eighteen to twenty-four months before it hits the shelves. The path to publication is a long and winding road … no way around it. Prepare yourself for a bumpy marathon—but I can tell you that it’s absolutely worth it!

3. A writing degree’s nice, but that alone won’t get you published. I graduated from college with a Master’s degree in English (emphasis in creative writing). I excelled in all things literary at my university—edited the literary journal, was chosen for student readings, etc. But it still took seven and a half years after obtaining my MA to snare that first book deal.  (There were days I swore my diploma was just a really, really expensive piece of art to hang on my office wall!) But just as you would never expect taking a class about business administration to automatically lead to a position as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, taking a class in writing (or earning a degree in it) doesn’t automatically lead to publication of the Great American Novel. What it will allow you to do is learn how to write under deadline, how to revise, and how to deal with others critiquing your work.

4. Hamburger tastes every bit as good as steak. I doubt anybody goes into writing for the love of money—we do it for our love of literature. But especially during that rough pre-publication period, you’ll be surprised at the things you’ll wind up giving up, doing without, to make ends meet. But so what? You’re chasing your dream! Stuff is just stuff … new cars and fancy cell phones and designer clothes are nowhere near as important as time spent at your computer with your characters.

5. Not everyone is going to understand why you chose writing. Even some of your best friends are going to look at you like you’ve absolutely lost it once you begin writing and submitting, chasing that often elusive first book deal. As time goes on, that look explodes. While it can be hard to shoulder, just remember that the author of every book in your local library got that look at one time or another, in their own pre-published days.

6. Go ahead—get emotional about rejection! But then you’ve got to get over it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling horrible about a rejection. You wrote the book—you’re emotionally invested—it’s going to hurt when an editor or agent returns your love with a few brutal comments. So go ahead—cry. Scream. Let it out. But if you stay angry or hurt, you will never get published. Period. Every author revises. Every. Single. Author. So after you’ve vented, look open-mindedly at what the editor or agent is saying. And think objectively and critically about your project.

7. A rejection is not always a closed door. OK, so you were just rejected. But the rejection didn’t come with a form letter—it came instead as a personalized letter with glowing remarks about your work, and the willingness to read your work again should you revise. This is huge. By recognizing it as an enormous opportunity—and revising and resubmitting—the very next letter you receive may very well be a formal offer of representation—or better yet, publication!



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6 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Holly Schindler

  1. Holly Schindler

    Thanks, Kristan! Can’t wait for you to read BLUE. And music lessons really were fantastic, Lara. I had no idea, when I started teaching, that my students would inspire me to write in a completely new genre…That just goes to show that as a writer, you really do have to keep your antennae out…you never know when that next spark of inspiration might strike!

  2. Lara Ehrlich

    I also love #3. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people worry about whether they have the "right" to write. And I love that you taught music part-time while writing your novels. That sounds like a great balance between paying the bills and following your passion.

  3. Holly Schindler

    Good question, Lara! I did work part-time, teaching piano and guitar lessons from my home. (I got up early and wrote until three in the afternoon, when students started to arrive.) At the time, I was only drafting adult manuscripts. My students inspired me to write YA! But I’m glad you liked #3, too, Chuck…This was the biggest revelation to me as I started writing…There’s a big difference between academic writing and professional writing, and the only way to learn that difference is to put the old nose to the grindstone…

  4. Lara

    Thank you for an inspiring post, Holly! I love that you addressed #4. It’s so easy to get caught up in the "stuff" of living–like you said, the cell phone and the car and the fancy cheese. When writing your book, how did you make ends meet? Did you work a full-time job and squeeze writing in where you could, or did you cut back your day job and eat peanut butter sandwiches for every meal while writing your novel?


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