7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kim Fu

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Kim Fu, author of FOR TODAY I AM A BOY) 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: Kim 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: Burrowswrite won.)


For-Today-i-am-a-boy-book-cover     Kim-Fu-author-writer

Kim Fu‘s debut novel, FOR TODAY I AM A BOY (Jan 2014, ), follows four
sisters in an immigrant Chinese family, one born biologically male. Kim is the
news columns editor for This Magazine, and has written for Maisonneuve,
The Rumpus, Ms. Magazine, NPR, and Best Canadian Essays, among
others. She lives in Seattle. Find her on Twitter.


1. Every piece of writing is different, and demands different things of you. Every time I start something new, I wonder how the heck I did it the last time. I keep expecting it to get easier, or to stumble upon a perfect formula or method that I can reuse over and over again. Instead, every piece comes together differently, on its own timeline. I try to remind myself that the perpetual challenge is what keeps writing interesting.

2. Selling a manuscript is like falling in love. A traditional publishing deal requires a series of unlikely events. An agent has to agree to represent your book, and then send it to the right publishers. The right editor has to read it, and they have to love it so much that they’re willing stake their name on it. The editor then needs to present your book in a way that convinces the publisher and a room full of marketing staff.

The editor has to love it. It’s not that your book has to be the objective best of all the manuscripts currently in circulation — it needs to find the person who will have a strong, gut-level reaction, who will believe in it. It needs to fall into the right hands. Serendipity matters as much as merit. No one is entitled to love, and the people who find it are not necessarily the worthiest people, but the luckiest.

(Would your story make a great movie? Here are 7 tips on writing a film script.)

3. Writing can be very mundane. I wish people were more upfront about this! We often have a romantic image of what is the writer does, day to day. We’re interested in their garrets and bunkers, how they arrange their desk, what time they wake up in the morning. None of that really matters. Here’s what writing looks like: someone parks their butt in a chair, stares at a blank computer screen, and slogs through. Letter by letter and word by word. It can be fun, even transcendent – but the physical reality is no different than data entry.

4. Being a professional writer requires skills other than writing. The personality traits that make you a writer are probably not the ones that will serve you well when you’re promoting it. Most writers I know like to observe the world at a distance; they enjoy being alone, left to their consuming, solitary work.

Talking on the radio, giving readings, having your picture taken, being interviewed by the media, being written about, hustling and schmoozing — these things are terrifying if you’re a naturally shy, inwardly focused person. It pays to practice and cultivate these skills ahead of time, so you’re not left bumbling through or melting down at the sight of a microphone.


How to Blog a Book by Nina Amir discusses
how to slowly release a novel online to generate
interest in your writing and work.


5. Ideas are a dime a dozen. I’ve heard a number of people say they have one book inside themselves, one perfect, unique idea that might take a lifetime to hone and perfect. I find it’s more productive to assume I have an almost infinite number of ideas, but most of them are bad. And I won’t be able to identify those rare good ones until I’ve written them. When a story isn’t working out, I throw it away and move on.

You could sit down right now and bang out a dozen one-sentence plots. Most of them will be bad, but at least one will be worth pursuing, and you can write another dozen tomorrow. There’s no reason to despair if the next idea is just around the corner.

(Why agents stop reading your sample chapters.)

6. Yes, some writers are geniuses, but most writers grow. There’s a scene in Little Women where Amy says, on giving up painting, “Talent isn’t genius, and no amount of energy can make it so. I want to be great, or nothing. I won’t be a common-place dauber, so I don’t intend to try any more.” That line haunted me for years. Sometimes genius does seem like an intrinsic quality. Sometimes I read a novel that clearly has a truly singular, brilliant mind behind it. And I think, in a million years I will never write like that, so what’s the point?

Here’s what helps me: find a writer you admire who’s had a long, prolific career. Read (or re-read) their entire oeuvre, in chronological order. Even if they’re all excellent books, some will be better than others. Their early books might have a glimmer of what make their best works great, what defines their voice later on, while still showing the flaws of inexperience — lazy habits, lesser ambitions.

I still think that genius exists, but that’s no reason that the rest of us shouldn’t try.

7. If you meet a writer and you like their work and you like them as a person, never let them go. Maintain that friendship at all costs. Across time and geography. Support them in everything they do. Celebrate their every victory (even if it coincides with your loss) and mourn their every loss (even if you were the winner). Offer them feedback, send them relevant submission calls and job postings, buy them drinks, let them sleep on your couch. A network of good writers who are also good people — reliable collaborators, strong editors, fun and sympathetic friends — will advance your career and enrich your life more than anything else.

GIVEAWAY: Kim 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: Burrowswrite won.)


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
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9 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Kim Fu

  1. That Girl

    I like your honesty in #3. I have done data entry for years…but always with a blank page open in another tab…sometimes during all the typing for work, strange ideas for a story just pop up out of nowhere. One doesn’t break the flow from other, my work and writing just somehow coexist within the same moments.
    I think there is a lot to say about #5……..ideas are a dime a dozen—good or bad—–they all must be considered…..I consider all of the ideas that come out of my head…I flip them around every which way and sometimes even break out the crayons to see if they look better in a different color before I ever discard them. I am not a published writer….but I have so much passion for writing and other forms of art. I do it mostly for me…..a sort of therapy from the terribleness the real world is offering.
    I enjoyed the entire article and will save it to review again later. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  2. vrundell

    Thanks so much for your insights. I particularly like how you remind us that writers grow. It’s part of that ‘million bad words’ mantra–that you must write, and write and write to become a good author. I routinely stalk the backlist of fave authors, so I can relate to thinking one or another books is better or worse, in sequence.
    Best of luck with your book. Sounds like an intriguing premise–especially as male offspring are seemingly prized in Chinese culture.

  3. Matthew Eaton

    Some great advice here. It is easy to forget how things are in the writing world, and I am very pleased with you mentioning #6 on the list. I couldn’t agree more, do more work to be better at executing your craft.

    Thanks for sharing!


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