7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Pamela Wechsler

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Pamela Wechsler, author of MISSION HILL) 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.

Pamela Wechsler, author of MISSION HILL (May 3, 2016, Minotaur Books) spent over fifteen years working as a criminal prosecutor at the local, state and federal levels. She has served as an assistant district attorney and assistant attorney general in Boston, and she was a trial attorney for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.. She has investigated and prosecuted a wide variety of crimes, including: murder, witness intimidation, sexual assault, drug trafficking, stock market manipulation, and political corruption. Pam grew up in the Boston area and is a graduate of Tufts and Boston University School of Law. Currently, she is consulting on television shows, and working on the second Abby Endicott novel.

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1. There’s no right way to write a novel. Everyone does it differently. Some writers prepare extensive outlines, mapping out each chapter in detail, while others develop the plot as they go along. Some authors edit their work as they go along, others finish a complete draft before making any revisions. Some people write chronologically, from start to finish, while others write random scenes without regard to where they’ll fit. Don’t compare yourself to others and worry that you’re doing it wrong—because there is no wrong or right.

(How many literary agents should a writer send their work to?)

2. Writing is a craft. Educate yourself and get a working knowledge of basic principles—read literary criticism, take a class, or go to author readings. Before you start writing your novel, think about point of view, setting, plot, and character. Familiarize yourself with the concept of narrative distance. Consider what tense you want to use to write your story, and what time span you want to cover. You don’t have to know all the answers upfront, but it’s important to know your options.

3. Writing is solitary, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. Take a workshop, join a writing group, or find an online network. Talk about writing, read your pages out loud, and listen to others. It’ll make you feel less alone and it will make you a better writer.

4. Criticism is a gift. If someone is willing to read your work and give you feedback, take advantage of the offer. It doesn’t matter if your reader has an MFA or is a literary scholar—you just want someone who is honest. People who tell you how brilliant you are will make you feel good, but they won’t make you a better writer.


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5. The first ten pages of your book are critical. If your reader doesn’t get hooked by then, they’ll stop reading. Maybe the excitement really picks up in chapter 5, or you have a kick ass ending, but it doesn’t matter—no one will get that far into the book if they’re not hooked after the first couple of chapters.

6. Writers write. Keep a schedule, set a goal, and stick to it. It can be 1,000 pages a day, or two pages a week—whatever works for you. Try to sit in front of your computer every day, at least for a couple of minutes. Soon, something good is bound to happen.

(How many markets should you send your novel out to?)

7. You’re going to hit the wall. When you feel like you have nothing left to say, get out of your head and get out of your house. Go somewhere to refuel: see a movie, visit a museum, go for a walk—whatever will help you clear your mind and get your creative juices flowing again.

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