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7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Jeanne Matthews

Categories: 7 Things I've Learned So Far, Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, What's New.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Jeanne, author of HER BOYFRIEND’S BONES) 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.

(How many blog page views are enough to impress an agent?)

 

jeanne-matthews-headshot            her-boyfriends-bones-cover

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin mysteries published
by Poisoned Pen Press, including Bones of Contention, Bet Your Bones,
and Bonereapers. HER BOYFRIEND’S BONES was released in June 2013.
Like her anthropologist sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust
and she sets each of her books in a different part of the world. Originally
from Georgia, she currently lives in Renton, Washington.
For more information, visit her website.

 

 

1. Keep your manuscript, not your head, in the clouds. I used to be casual and nonchalant about saving my writing to a remote server – until a heartless perp broke down my front door, rampaged through my house, and stole my computer containing my manuscripts and research notes, pictures, blogs in progress, and all of my contact information. Even so, I was lucky. I had sent my most recent novel to the publisher just a few days before. I had a hard copy of an earlier draft, but the thought that I might have had to recreate all of the edits from memory made my blood run cold. As the saying goes, “Experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.” I now send everything to that mysterious, digital Cloud in the sky on a daily basis.

2. Don’t be hamstrung by the admonition to “write what you know.” Fiction writers are constantly lectured to write what they know. But I have no desire to rehash my own experience. For me, the joy of writing is in discovery and learning about people, places, and events I know nothing about. Travel and research may not turn you into a bona fide expert, but in this age of permeable borders and access to free information, you can write a well-informed, plausible story about anything or any place that catches your fancy.

3. The quality of the writing is the only thing you can control. Self-promotion is a necessity in today’s crowded marketplace and, except for the top tier authors whose publishers have large advertising budgets, it falls to the rest of us to stir interest in our books by whatever means we can. We must arrange signings, give interviews, solicit reviews, blog, haunt the social media sites, and attend conferences if we can afford them – all the while we continue writing the next novel. Sometimes it feels as if a million writers are scrambling for the attention of a seemingly diminishing pool of readers. But no amount of effort will guarantee sales. Good reviews, word of mouth, and name exposure help, but success is unpredictable. All you can do is write the best book you can possibly write. That’s why most of us become writers in the first place, right?

4. Read your writing out loud to somebody else. It’s amazing what you’ll hear. Things that seemed crystal clear or charmingly lyrical when you read them over to yourself in silence may sound muddled when you speak them out loud to a more objective listener. Reading my work to other writers tells me immediately what needs to be cut or clarified.

 

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.

 

5. Don’t worry about the theme. As a beginning writer, I thought I had to decide up front on some overarching theme for my novel, a central idea or moral concept that would be obvious to every reader. This had a paralyzing effect. It took me a while to relax and realize that there will be many themes in a novel and regardless of the author’s intended message, different readers will derive different meanings. The writer’s job is to tell the story. Let the audience determine the theme.

6. Give your characters a desire and turn them loose. The things we want in life lead us inevitably to the choices that we make, the bonds we form, and even the small details that we notice in our environment. The same is true of fictional characters. Give them a desire and that desire will drive the plot. As my favorite writing teacher Bret Anthony Johnson explained it to me, “Conflict is the difference between what a character wants to happen and what does happen.”

(Looking to attend a writers’ conference? Start here.)

7. It’s important to celebrate every step along the way. You’ve written a novel. That is a huge accomplishment, one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your life. Celebrate. Celebrate the first draft and when you’ve revised and made it still better, celebrate the fortieth draft. Celebrate when you send out the most riveting, high-octane, irresistible query any agent or publisher has ever received. If rejection comes, accept it as a badge of courage, the dues you pay for membership in the club. Keep on writing and improving your craft. Compose an even more compelling query and give yourself a pat on the back. Don’t wait until your book is bought to crack open the champagne. There will be ups and downs in every writer’s journey. It’s important to enjoy the ride.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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3 Responses to 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Jeanne Matthews

  1. Mertz says:

    As a computer geek, I started backing up to the cloud or an external hard drive that I store in a safe place quite early and constantly nag my online group of writing friends to do the same. I think I’ll forward them a link to your tips…little reminders of what happens in life are helpful. Thanks for the rest of the tips!

  2. moscoboy says:

    #7 Was a killer, thanks I needed that.

  3. vrundell says:

    Sound advice. I’d write more, but I need to run a backup. (JK!)
    Best of luck!
    Veronica
    http://vsreads.com

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