7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Liz Tolsma

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Liz Tolsma, author of SNOW ON THE TULIPS) 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.


liz-tolsma-writer-author        snow-on-the-tulips-cover-tolsma

New York Times best-selling author Liz Tolsma is currently a stay-at-home
mom and part-time church secretary. Her novella Under His Wings released
in September 2011, in Barbour Publishing’s novella collection A Log Cabin Christmas.
Her novel is SNOW ON THE TULIPS (August 2013, Thomas Nelson). When not
writing, she enjoys reading, walking, gardening and snowshoeing. She makes her
home next to a cornfield in Wisconsin with her husband, Doug, and their three
children, all adopted internationally.




1. BICHOK (aka “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”): You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write. At first glance, it’s so obvious. Of course you have to write to be a writer. But there are so many distractions – social media, Facebook games, kids, laundry. Just like any other job, you need to be at “work” at some point. For me, the best way to do it is to turn off the internet. We have the wireless router hooked up to one of those remotes for Christmas lights. It goes off at ten each night and I don’t get to turn it on in the morning until I’ve written two thousand words. Find your distraction and deal with it. Then BICHOK!

2. Stories are everywhere. You never know when an idea is going to pop up – in the grocery store, talking to friends, taking your morning run. More likely, at two o’clock in the morning. Be prepared. Be on the lookout.

(Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?)

3. Publication will happen when you least expect it. You’ve sent in your amazing manuscript, one that will have editors clamoring to publish it, pushing the advance into the stratosphere. For the next two weeks, you sit by the phone (or carry it with you wherever you go) willing it to ring. With each little beep and buzz, you fish it out of your purse or run from the bathroom with your pants around your ankles so you don’t miss “the call”. Yeah, right. I was offered my contract while my husband and I were on a freeway off ramp, trying to keep the mattress we were moving from sliding off the truck. He was miffed I chatted on the phone instead of helping. He got over it. Hard as it is, it may take a while for you to hear – if you ever do. Send it in and move onto the next project.

4. Marketing is hard work. It will take time – time for you to learn how to do it, time for you to execute it. And it starts long before you have your first contract. You want people to recognize your name when they see the book on the shelf. Use all of the means out there – the obvious like Facebook and Twitter, the less obvious like Pinterest. Yes, I have more followers on my WWII Pinterest board than I do on Facebook or Twitter. Don’t forget about YouTube. Write articles for magazines. Get your name out there. Just avoid turning your name into a scintillating headline.

5. Never stop learning. Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned professional, you can learn more about writing and publishing. Take online classes. Go to conferences. Read books. Read other authors that you like and study how they craft a story. Knowledge opens so many doors for you.

(Learn about pitching your novel to an agent at a writers’ conference.)

6. Get a good critique partner. They are invaluable. I believe I wouldn’t have been published without my crit partner. She and I work together so well. We aren’t afraid to give constructive criticism or to receive it. That’s what critiquing is all about. We are committed to keeping the atmosphere positive. We share what we have learned and we support each other. It may take some time to find that perfect someone, but a good critique partner is worth her weight in gold – or in book contracts, at least.

7. Have an outlet. Step away from the computer. Slowly, now. You can do it. Keep backing up. Don’t give into the temptation to run back to it. That’s the way. Go outside and take a walk. Spend the afternoon at the mall or the golf course. Play a game with your kids. Right now, I’m in the midst of promoting my first solo novel, editing book two in the series and writing book three. The novella collection I was featured in in 2011 is re-releasing, so there is marketing for that. If I wanted to, I could spend twenty hours a day on my computer. That’s isn’t healthy physically, isn’t good for your family, and stifles creativity. After your break, when you do go jogging toward your office, arms spread wide to welcome your long lost friend, you will be refreshed. The ideas will flow more easily. Believe it or not, you’ll get more done if you take a break.


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6 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Liz Tolsma

  1. Katie

    It’s funny, because #1 and #7 are often at war with each other (for me). Sometimes I tell myself I need a break, and then getting back in the chair can be very, very difficult. So I abstain from breaking, and end up grouchy and angry at everyone and everything.

    As an aside, this book cover is beautiful!

  2. DanielJayBerg

    I’ve never heard the BICHOK acronym before, but it gets the point across! I’d like to hear more about marketing tips and how to balance with creative work.

    Thanks for providing these insights on a healthy writing career. Good luck!

    1. liztolsma

      As I’m new to this whole authoring thing, I’m learning as I go. I try to do my writing in the morning, then social media and blogging, etc. in the afternoon. It’s all about being disciplined. You have to treat it as a job, because that is, in effect, what it is. Thanks for your comment!


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