7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

 

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Sarah Jamila Stevenson, author of THE LATTE REBELLION) 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.

Sarah is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Kristan won.)

     


Sarah Jamila Stevenson is a freelance writer, editor,
artist and graphic designer, as well as co-founder of
the YA lit and writing blog Finding Wonderland with
author Tanita Davis. Sarah’s first young adult novel,
The Latte Rebellion (Flux, Jan. 2011) is the story of a
moneymaking scheme that spins hilariously—and
disastrously—out of control. See the book website here
or Sarah’s website here.

 

1. Every project is different. For each novel-writing project I’ve embarked on, the creative process has been a little different, and so have the demands of each project—whether that’s full-steam-ahead scribbling or recurring periods of down time. (I really should have known this. It’s certainly been true for my visual artwork.) I’ve learned I have to pay close attention to what each project needs.

2. Getting a book published does not suddenly grant me magical powers I didn’t have before. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a wonderful, amazing experience. But somehow I thought that publishing a book would mean I’d henceforth “know how it’s all done.” But guess what? I’m still the same person, and there’s still a ton of stuff I don’t know. Go figure.

3. Printouts are your friend. As someone who does most of my writing on the computer, it’s tempting to make excuses for not printing things out: I can read it just fine on the screen; I don’t want to kill a tree. But when it comes to revision, there’s no better way to get a fresh perspective on your work than to look at a physical copy. Plus you can channel your inner editor and scribble on it as much as you want.

4. There’s no substitute for thoughtful critique. Whether it comes from informal beta readers, your writing group, your agent or your editor, having multiple pairs of eyes looking at your work is key—and having clear, useful feedback is invaluable to revision. My writing group has been an incredible source of feedback, ideas, and general reminders to get my head out of my, well, you know.

 

5. You do not have to take every suggestion people make about your work. It is a good idea to listen to the feedback of your beta readers or critique group. It is also a good idea to consider that feedback carefully. But you don’t have to take every single piece of advice. It’s YOUR book. I try my hardest to be a thoughtful consumer of advice and try to be objective about what’s going to truly help my project and what might not be quite on the mark. Everybody’s got an opinion. Ask yourself: does this piece of feedback match my ultimate goals for this project? Even if I don’t like it?

6. Sometimes you have to be kind to yourself, and sometimes you have to crack the whip. This is pretty self-explanatory. When the creative juices aren’t flowing, or when I’m low on energy, I spend an awful lot of time nudging, badgering, cajoling, and outright bribing myself to sit there and get things done. That’s all well and good, but don’t forget that you also need to take a break sometimes. If I’ve been working solidly on a project for a long while, my brain needs serious down time.

7. You can do it.
There can be an awful lot of insecurity and self-doubt involved in being a writer or an artist. I don’t mean to say that those feelings don’t matter, or that they’re easy to push aside. But it is very much possible to KEEP GOING ANYWAY. It turns out that’s what really matters, not those nasty self-doubts.

 

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27 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

  1. Sean McLaughlin

    Sarah, this is good advice. Its better than sex! Well, almost…!
    The thing is, all of these 7 globes of wisdom apply to every writer WITHOUT WRITER’S BLOCK… See, I doodle. Moreover, I scribble. And furthermore, I tear up paper at an amazing rate. Tree huggers hate me! I couldn’t care less, but oh! writer’s block! I need some exreme nuggets of wisdom from thee on how to overcome that disease! Talk to me mama!

  2. Christian

    I really appreciate your tips. I am a new writer – I mean I used to start stories, but never really finished them. Now I am actually writing a book. Sometimes I love what I write and others I feel like there could be more. I really like your tip on cracking the whip. It’s exactly what I need! Thank you so much!

  3. Blake

    I wish publishing a book did come with magical powers.
    "Keep going" is the best advice anyone can ever get and give. Just saying it to someone shows you believe in them, and hearing it is wonderful because you know someone believes in you. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Kaylie Crawford

    Lovely entertaining article, I must say. ^_^ I agree with a lot of what is said — especially when concerning the print-outs as well as the careful digestion of feedback from others. And as for the advice that of which I haven’t experience…well, now I have some tidbits of info that can help me. Also, I loved the little comic strip. Haha.

  5. Lily Elderkin

    Thanks for these helpful tips! I still have yet to actually print out my novel, which I know is bad. Well, I didn’t, I guess, until I read this column! I’ll be buying some paper and lots of red pens in the future…

  6. Sarah Stevenson

    Thanks so much for the kind words and great comments! And thanks, Chuck, for the opportunity to do a guest post.

    June, YES on the index cards/post-it notes…in fact, once I revised an entire short story by cutting up the sections into bits, laying them all out on the floor, and physically moving them around. It actually worked pretty well. 🙂

  7. Stacey Sharp

    Just to show you how short my memory has become, I was just about to start this with: "Hey sweetie, I got your call," in response to a voicemail message. I’m sitting here responding in my head.

    Anyway, before I forget, I can use every piece of advice you have given, all 7.

    The two that stood out were (not taking every suggestion and being kind to yourself). The reason those stood out the most is because I think those two are on my weaknesses list. Even though I know in advance not to take EVERYONE’S advice. Still, meticulous part of me wants to at least considery WHY they said it. After all, everyone is a potential reader, buyer, critic, or something.

    Well, I thank you so much for your time and your advice.

    Great job on your accomplishments.

    Godspeed.

  8. Jenn

    3 is great advice. It’s nice to hear that I don’t have to feel guilty about the environment because I know it’s an integral part of the creative process!

  9. Heather Weden

    Thanks for the heads up on #2.
    I totally agree with #3. It helps when I get too carried away at channeling my inner editor. That way the next morning I don’t have to undo all my over-zealous changes.

  10. Lydia Dunn

    Thanks. I am SO AFRAID! I have the whole damn book in my head, but I’m terrified the first sentence will be so bad that I will give up. SO, I just don’t write it. But your advice was very helpful. Little steps!

  11. June

    I need to print more things out. In fact, I think I will go do so with a draft my friend wants looked at. I am also a big proponent of paper notes. Yes, you can shuffle around notes on a computer, no, it does not give me the same tactile glee that a stack of index cards and a file folder of post it notes does.

  12. MaDonna Maurer

    Thanks for your tips. I like printing out my work when I’m revising as well. I was just thinking about that yesterday and questioning myself if I should continue with this or not. I’ll continue…but conservatively, of course.

  13. Kristan

    #6 is SUPER important. (As is the judgment to understand the difference between when you are being lazy and when you truly need a break…)

    Great advice, and I love the accompanying comic!

  14. HeatherM

    This is excellent advice and Sarah is hillarious! I wasn’t always a big believer in #3 until I tried it. Now it’s an integral part of my editing process. Bummer on #2, I was so hoping for a superpower! 😉

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