This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by You Byun, author of DREAM FRIENDS) 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: Y.B. 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: Sylliu won.)
You Byun is the author and illustrator of her debut picture book
DREAM FRIENDS (Feb. 2013), of which The New York Times
Book Review said: “[Reminiscent] of the classic Goodnight Moon.”
Additionally the book was selected for NYT Editor’s Choice,
and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, noting,
“Byun has created a diminutive paradise, a bedtime destination
that children will want to visit again and again.” She continues to
write full time and give lectures. Find her on Twitter.
1. You must ask yourself, “What kind of story am I allowed to write?” It’s obvious that I shouldn’t write about a child who becomes a heavy smoker. However, a story about a bear eating a rabbit for stealing his hat didn’t exist 10 years ago, but does now. Things that are okay to write about and not okay to write about in picture book, thankfully, changes. You cannot predict it, but it is your choice to stay the guideline that implicitly exists. You don’t need to wait around until somebody else crosses the line; you can be the one, if that is necessary to write the story you believe in.
2. Your book will reflect a huge part of you. How I communicate through my book with readers hugely reflects how I share myself with other people. I look friendly and social at the first sight, but actually I am quite reserved and shy, and you need to dig in harder to find out more about me. (Please be patient! I love making friends.) My book Dream Friends is the same – its look is luxurious (if I can dare to say this), but the story is quiet and hidden in pictures. Be aware of how you communicate with others. Be cautious to find your way to share your story with readers, or even improve your social skills. They are connected. Also, if you cannot entertain and surprise yourself with your life, you wouldn’t do the same with your books either. The key is to live a rich life in both your creative life and outside of the creative life.
3. Please yourself as a reader. I have the highest standard and expectation as a reader, like you do. When I walk into a bookstore, I want to be surprised to find a new picture book that will astonish me. I want to fall in love. I want to feel jealous because I didn’t come up with it first. I want to be surprised by a book because of its artwork or its touching story or the playfulness of the book. When I loved a book I have to own it. There is something magical in those special books which make me buy them. You want to have that magic in your book. My goal of making books is to satisfy that. When I write a book, I ask myself – Would I want to own this book if I saw this at the bookstore? Would I recommend this to friends? If not, it means either the story needs more works, or I need to start a new story.
4. Always carry a pen and a notepad. This is a new habit for me, which I admit I find very helpful. Now I pay attention to what I see or what I hear, because I know I have a notepad to fill in. Most importantly I write notes down rather than trying to remember them. Almost always I forget inspirations when I make a note in my head, so it is important to write those down. Inspirations are like butterflies, they suddenly appear and fly away whenever they like. Most of time you have to be in the right place to capture them.
5. Keep the balance of output and input. Output means writing books. Input means doing something that inspires you to write books. Of course ‘input’ is not only about reading other books. Good conversations, listening to music, watching movies, travels – find your own input sources. Input and output should happen almost equally. Too much input without output will confuse you, and too much output without input will make it difficult to continue writing.
6. Beware of comments and reviews. It is exciting to have your book out there, and getting responses from people you never have met. You can learn from reviews but at the same time, you need to know how to draw a line between constructive feedback and more unfocused comments. Make sure they don’t affect you too much, so you don’t lose your own belief in your work. Stay confident and believe in what you are doing.
7. Treat your body well. I know all you want to do is writing – you don’t want to sleep or eat until the day your book is published, but it is important to maintain your health mentally and physically. Eat well, go on a long walk and sleep well too.
GIVEAWAY: Y.B. 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: Sylliu won.) Read more
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- How to Get Agents to Like Your Characters and Keep Reading.
- Debut Young Adult Writer Laurie Crompton Explains How a YA Book Gets Published.
- NEW Agent Steve Kasdin of Curtis Brown Seeks Clients Now.
- See a Large List of Writers Conferences in the U.S.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Interview with Tim Kring, creator of TV’s “Heroes” and “Touch.”
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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