7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kali Wallace

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Kali Wallace, author of SHALLOW GRAVES) 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: Morgynsxar has won the giveaway.

Kali Wallace studied geology and geophysics before she realized she enjoyed inventing imaginary worlds more than she liked researching the real one. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, F&SF, Asimov’s, and Tor.com. After spending most of her life in Colorado, she now lives in southern California. SHALLOW GRAVES (Jan. 26, 2016, Katherine Tegen Books) is her first novel.

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1. Finishing the first draft is the hardest part. I used to give up on a story the moment it started getting hard. I believed—really believed, for a very long time—that if I knew what I was doing and I had a story worth telling, I would be able to write a perfect story on the first try.

This is nonsense. First drafts aren’t hard to finish because my ideas are bad or because I don’t know the best writing tricks. First drafts are hard because writing is hard. Pushing through hard spots to get a (terrible, messy) first draft written is the most important step toward eventually having a finished story worth reading.

2. Except for all the other hardest parts. There are writers in the world who finish a first draft, read it over a couple of times to clean it up, and that’s it. They’re finished. The story is done.

This is what I have learned about those writers: I hate them.

More importantly: I am never gone to be a first-draft-and-done writer. I’ve tried. It’s not happening. I am always going to be a seventeen-drafts-and-a-few-more writer. My writing process involves a lot of trial-and-error and always will, but I’ve learned to appreciate the marathon rather than hoping each time I’ll get lucky and finish in a sprint.

(Literary agents share helpful advice for new writers.)

3. What works when writing one story might not work for the next story. It is cosmically unfair that after I’ve worked for months or years learning how to write my first novel, I could sit down at my second novel and realize that none of those things I learned work anymore.

But that’s exactly what happened. And it will probably happen again with the third novel, and the fourth, and the fiftieth, if (fingers crossed) I get that far. As long as I am writing new things, my writing process is growing and changing, and that’s okay. Maybe I winged it before, but I need a rough outline this time. That’s fine. Maybe I wrote linearly before, but this time around I need to get the end down before I can imagine the beginning. That’s cool. Totally fine! I’m human; I can adapt.

4. It’s okay to have fun. There is truth to the idea that if you want writing to be your job, you have to treat it like a job–but that doesn’t mean you have to hate it like a job. Don’t trust those who tell you that you have to be miserable and in pain in order to create something worthwhile. Forget the people in the world who fetishize the image of writers suffering for their art. Just because writing is hard work doesn’t mean it can’t also be enjoyable. I found that once I gave myself permission to have fun, to take risks, to play around with new ideas, a lot of aspects of writing and publishing that had felt like burdens before didn’t seem so bad.

5. People are going to want to change my stories. Sometimes they are right. Working with agents and editors means working with people who want to wrangle your story into being the best possible story it can be. But I didn’t realize what that meant until I saw the difference between suggested changes I absolutely did not want to make even after much consideration, and suggested changes I balked at initially but eventually realized were for the best.

I’m not talking about punctuation; I’m talking about structural, thematic, major changes. It takes careful thought and a clear vision to recognize when editorial suggestions are going to push the story away from what I want it to be—or when those suggestions are exactly what I needed all along.

(Just starting out as a writer? See a collection of great writing advice for beginners.)

6. Work on something new. Last story didn’t sell? Work something new. Story immediately forgotten? Work on something new. Novel isn’t getting much hype? Work on something new. Reviews are crushing my spirit? Work on something new. When it comes to writing and publishing, I want to always be looking forward, not backward.

7. The best way to handle the madness that is publishing is to join a gang. A gang of other writers, that is. Writing is often a very lonely act, but publishing doesn’t have to be. A good agent and a good editor are invaluable, absolutely, but so too is a group of fellow writers who are all going through the same trials of writing, revising, submitting, editing, promoting, and publishing together. Find a gang of writers and cherish them. They’ll make everything easier and more enjoyable in the long run.

GIVEAWAY: Morgynsxar has won the giveaway.

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5 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kali Wallace

  1. DanielJayBerg

    Thanks for sharing and congratulations! I’m wondering if there are any common themes and/or specific examples of when you followed someone else’s advice on changing your stories.

  2. Morgynstar

    Kali, OMG, checking your website out and found this line. Twice today, you’re being reblogged by me.

    Join a gang? Is that not the truth! Mine will love reading about your writing journey.

  3. Cara Achterberg

    Really loved this piece and your voice. You sound like a friend just giving me the best advice, someone who’s on my team. Maybe that’s what I needed to hear today. Rarely follow these links, always certain I don’t have time because I need to WORK, WORK, WORK. Glad I did today. I’m going to let go of a few stresses and go start something new. Thanks so much.

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