Editors Blog

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Nina Benneton

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Nina Benneton, author of COMPULSIVELY MR. DARCY) 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: Nina 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: Jami G. won.)

 

    

Nina Benneton was on her way to win a Nobel prize in
something, anything, when a wonderful husband and the
requisite number of beautiful children interrupted her plans.
She turned to writing. COMPULSIVELY MR. DARCY (Feb. 2012
Sourcebooks) is her debut novel. Publishers Weekly said of
the book, “Die-hard fans of everything Austen will enjoy this
update of her classic tale.”  Visit Nina at www.NinaBenneton.com
and follow her on Twitter. 

 

 

1. Be kind to yourself. As a non-native English writer, I have a secret, shameful flaw: sometimes I cannot tell the singular from the plural. First assignment in an advanced, professional writing class: my character glanced behind to check out her butts. (I see two when I look behind me, don’t you?). The teacher’s mouth frothed; the class giggled. Did I slink away in shame? No. I chose to be kind to myself. Laugh. Clarify with native speakers about singularity and plurality of various body parts. Note to self: two cheeks, one butt. Move on to make other mistakes to entertain teacher and classmates.

Writers are very self-critical people. We berate ourselves for the little flaws and the big flaws. But, if we don’t have self-acceptance and self-love about our writing, we don’t feel safe. If we don’t feel safe, we cannot see our weaknesses with a clear-eye and, most importantly, with compassion. Without compassion, the process to improve our craft will be fraught with needless self-flagellation. Stop. Be kind to yourself.

2. Don’t reject yourself. Let others reject you. Many writers I know resist finishing their manuscripts. Or, if they’ve finished, will not submit their manuscripts. They’d rather reject themselves than take a chance and receive a rejection. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather let a professional reject me than amateur-me reject myself. An editor tells me she usually requests many more submissions than she has time to read at conferences because only a small percentage of writers will send in the requested submissions. Writers reject themselves before they get to her.

Celebrate your rejections. Rejections mean you’ve overcome self-rejection and managed to finish and submit a manuscript. You’re way ahead of the thousands of writers who’ve rejected themselves. Don’t reject yourself.

(The term “platform” defined — learn how to sell more books.)

3. You are not a misunderstood genius. Accept this, and you will find that your growth as a writer leaps and bounds off the chart.

Sometimes you have to listen to the professionals. The novel of my heart, the novel my family and friends raved about, the novel fellow writer-friends complimented, the novel I was sure would find a home was rejected. My agent and the editor recommended I work on something else. Move on, they said.

After I got over my I’m-a-misunderstood-genius part, I listened and moved on. I shelved the book and started working on another. I honed my craft with more writing classes. I now have clarity about why that novel was rejected. I see the weaknesses of the story that the agent and editor saw. What I learned from that rejection has helped me to become a better writer. You are not a misunderstood genius.

4. You are a grasshopper. As young Caine did in the American “Kung Fu” TV series, I’ve been lucky to find wonderful mentors. Writers, especially writers who teach, are some of the most generous human beings. As long as you don’t become a dementor and suck all the energy from them with your I’m-a-misunderstood-genius whining, and you show you’re willing to practice bum glue and show up on the page everyday, they will cut open their veins and transfuse into you all the wisdom, the know-how, and the encouragement you will ever need. From them, I’ve received advice and referrals to agents, editors, and other great teachers. The best writers want other writers to succeed. Ignore everyone else and find these people, these Master Pos, and sit at their feet. Tell them you are a grasshopper.

5. Duct tape your internal editor. Your internal editor is your worst enemy. He doesn’t want you to succeed because he’ll be out of a job. Silence him. Do what I did with a tip a wise teacher gave me. Take the ugliest stuffed animal you have, duct tape its mouth, and give it a name. My duct-taped internal editor, Ignoramus, sits next to my laptop. After I silenced him, I got published. Duct tape your internal editor.

(What to write in the BIO section of your queries.)

6. Nothing you write is ever wasted. Park your bum down and write. Everyday. That’s the best advice I’ve received from a prolific, multi-published, writing teacher. Even if what you write today will be deleted tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, you are training your writing muscles. By parking your bum down and writing everyday, no matter what, you integrate writing into your life. Writing becomes as natural a part of your day as brushing your teeth. This daily writing habit will help insulate you against your internal editor, against rejections, against everything but words on the page. No training session for an athlete is ever wasted. Nothing you write is ever wasted.  Lastly, remember…

7. Writing is not brain surgery. It’s much harder. But nobody dies.

GIVEAWAY: Nina 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: Jami G. won.)

 

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

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

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46 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Nina Benneton

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hear! Hear!

      When I think of Kathryn Stockett with her 40 rejections, I am humbled and inspired. She didn’t reject herself!

      Thank you for commenting.

  1. erifnosmirc

    Great post. I know for sure I can relate to each of these points to some degree, especially the parts about self-editing and criticizing. I think it’s a writer’s nature to be a perfectionist. Blessing and a curse, isn’t it? We just don’t want to let ourselves down with our work, I suppose.

    1. Nina Benneton

      You’re so right. A blessing and a curse. If we weren’t perfectionist, we wouldn’t last too long as writers, eh? The opportunity of making mistakes are too infinite, and we know readers do not forgive or forget. But, I can’t create if I’m miserable, and perfection creates miserable beings. Thus, I
      always come back to number seven: it’s much harder than brain surgery, but nobody dies.

      Thank you for commenting.

  2. Pacato

    Wow I must have a big giant lion as a stuffed animal, but I really appreciate your text, you are so right that I was able to see myself being attacked by that damn internal editor and I remembered all the time I try to start writing before I actually find the guts to do it

    7 thing I most Remember! is what I will name the file I’m saving of your tips in my lap top

    Thank a lot and sorry for the grammar I learn English by listening so I sucked at it

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi Pacato,

      May I say how inspirational and humbling it is to read that you learn English by listening, and you left a comment here to give me a laugh? (Now I have this image of you as a poor little writer at your desk with a giant lion stuffed animal hovering. You should get a stuffed lion and tape him up. ) Thank you!

      I confess the logic of the English grammar rules escaped me until I find myself needing to help my children with their homework. I can now recite by memory all the prepositions in the English language: About, aboard, above…

  3. denysecohen

    Nina,
    Great words of advice. I especially empathize with # 1, because English is not my native language. My first book comes out in two weeks and I dread the readers finding mistakes that I or my editor missed. So, being kind to myself when I make such things happen, is a daily exercise.
    Best of luck,
    Denyse

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi denyse,

      WooHoo!!! Congratulations on ‘One Hit Wonder’! Thank you for sharing. How inspirational to read that not only do you write in a language not your mother’s tongue, but you also are an artist.

      I can completely relate to the fear of readers finding mistakes. Keeping in mind of #7 above helped me. Nobody dies. ;)

      And best of luck to you!

  4. Nina Benneton

    Hi Shannon,

    Oy vey! You have a Tiger-mom for an internal editor. In some ways, when you’re your harshest critic, it does motivate you to learn and improve yourself, and that’s good in so many ways. Yet, I find that the creative process involved in writing, especially in writing fiction, requires a certain quietness, and when it’s too noisy with harsh criticisms, either from ourselves or from others, it’s difficult to hear the muse. It’s difficult to hear your characters. It’s difficult to hear the words.

    You can’t do much about harsh criticisms from others, not when you’re a writer and putting your writing out there, but you can choose to be kinder to yourself.

    I’m so glad you write everyday. Listen, if a woman who can’t tell if she has one or two butts can write a book, you can do it! Good luck!

    Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your story. It touched me.

  5. revegrande

    Nina,
    You have really helped me out here with your advice. My biggest problem is number 2, since I feel I am one of my harshest critics and I wait for someone to critic me more than I can myself. You really know how to keep someone’s hopes up and keep their head high.
    I am a writer myself, although I haven’t been published. I write everyday and it is my dream to one day see people reading my books, but I am going to school for teaching English as a second language. It really hits me personally when I see an author like you write an amazing book and you English isn’t your native language. I want to help people think like you do!
    Thank you for such great advice and good luck in whatever comes your way.

    Shannon

  6. DMelde

    Hi Nina,

    There is a sweet and gentle quality to your advice that I find inspirational. I’m going to try your duct tape idea. Thanks for sharing. You have learned well, grasshopper.

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi DMelde,

      Sweet and gentle? Accck! Don’t say that. They’ll kick me out of the Tiger-Mom society and my children will never get to Carnegie Hall or Harvard.

      Seriously, I’m very touched by ‘your’ comment and I laughed at the grasshopper.

      Now go duct tape your internal editor, or I’m going to take your dollhouse away and give it to charity!

  7. Nina Benneton

    Karen!

    From someone who can’t even tell how many body parts she has, trust me on this: take that roll of duct tape out and use it. If you’re afraid your standards will go down if you don’t have your internal editor, then take him out AFTER you’ve written your first draft, after you’ve revised, and revised again as needed, let him have a few peeps.

    But, always have something going that you’re in love with and can’t wait to get back to the page if you’re going to let your internal editor out.

    Thank you for the compliment on Compulsively Mr. Darcy!

  8. LaurieSchnebly

    Nina, anyone who’s enjoyed your book (or chat) would never guess you weren’t a native writer…I’m amazed. And this is a link I’m going to save, because your advice will come in handy over and over and over again — thanks!

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi Laurie,

      Wow. One of the beautiful human beings who’s a writing teacher extraordinaire stopped by. Thank you. That’s a big compliment.

      Actually, being a non-native writer is very freeing. I can write naughty words without feeling one iota of embarrassment. When it’s not in your mother’s tongue, you can use four-letter words in your writing with great impunity…at least that’s what I tell my mother. ;)

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi plucci!

      I’m honored. I confess at first I thought–I know nothing. How can I come up with 7 things I’ve learned–besides that I have a pair of legs, but not a pair of hips; one bosom, but two breasts; a headful of hair, not hairs… ?

      Thank you for stopping by.

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi Mare,

      And thank you for that ‘humbling.’ Writing is humbling, isn’t it? It’s almost as humbling as parenting. All that work and more often than not you’ll get criticized, unappreciated, and then rejected, yet you do it because you love it and you can’t imagine not doing it.

      Thanks for your lovely comment.

  9. Marilyn Brant

    Nina,
    I love your words of advice! We writers are hard on ourselves, aren’t we? I agreed with everything you mentioned, and your #7 made me laugh aloud ;). Thank you!

  10. Marilyn Brant

    Nina,
    I love your words of advice! We writers are hard on ourselves, aren’t we? I agreed with everything you mentioned, and you #7 made me laugh aloud ;). Thank you!

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi crawfors_grrl,

      I’m honored. Thanks for your comment.
      Good luck with the win.

      Nina
      PS: I must admit I’m very curious about the ___grrl part.

  11. Jami Gold

    Great list, Nina! I laughed at your number 7, especially because I spent all yesterday–and will be spending all of today–figuratively taking my brain out and shaping it like Playdoh to make my revisions work. :) Yeah, writing is hard.

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi Jami,

      Hard, but remember, nobody dies!
      How true about revisions and brain! I actually love revisions, because I get to take a godawful first-draft and make something coherent. ;)
      Good luck with yours!
      Thanks for your comment!

  12. KarenMC

    Nina – lively and witty and wise words (as always). I’m having particular issues with the internal editor of late – now seriously contemplating the roll of duct tape that’s in my kitchen drawer! :D
    Loved CMD, anxiously awaiting whatever you might have coming down the pike.

    1. Nina Benneton

      Karen!

      From someone who can’t even tell how many body parts she has, trust me on this: take that roll of duct tape out and use it. If you’re afraid your standards will go down if you don’t have your internal editor, then take him out AFTER you’ve written your first draft, after you’ve revised, and revised again as needed, let him have a few peeps.

      But, always have something going that you’re in love with and can’t wait to get back to the page if you’re going to let your internal editor out.

      Thank you for the compliment on Compulsively Mr. Darcy!

  13. pj_friel

    Ahh, Nina…I remember the butts! lol! Your 7 Things are brilliant. They all speak to me, except #3 (although, I’ve known a couple of those type). My internal editor makes quite sure I never think I’m a genius. The next time I agonize over my writing, I shall remember #7 and invoke #6. :)

    I can’t wait to read your next novel. I so loved “Compulsively Mr. Darcy.”

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hey PJ!

      Sigh. Of course you remember the butts! That made the class feel better about their assignments, eh? You all were thinking: I’m good, since this Benneton chick can’t even tell how many butts she has.

  14. tgruy

    Nina, you are fantastic! I loved your advice, pity I don’t write anything creative. I love your book and reading what you write or comment always makes my day brighter. Congratulations!

  15. KillionSlade

    Nina! What a wonderful article :) Thank you for sharing such kindness. It is hard to remember how to be nice to yourself when there is so much negativity. Grasshoppers are wonderful and I agree, if you are willing to put aside your inner genius and just simply listen… there is so much to learn from those who have already suffered.

    Looking forward to your next novel release!

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi KillionSlade,

      I laughed at the ‘those who have already suffered’ part. How true. I like reading writers’ blogs about their processes…so I can skip the suffering.

  16. Shannon Winslow

    Nina – Excellent advice, especially #2. I didn’t reject myself; I set aside my self-doubt and charged ahead toward publication. But do I really have to give up on my “misunderstood genius” excuse? It comes in handy with the other part of #2 – when others reject me. Okay, so I may not be a genius (I can live with that), but I’m thinking those who send out rejections are not necessarily such geniuses either! ;)

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi Shannon,

      I’d say you didn’t reject yourself, with your publishing success.

      Completely agree about those who send out rejections aren’t geniuses, otherwise J.K.Rowling and Kathryn Stockett wouldn’t have had so many rejections, eh? But, they didn’t reject themselves…they keep at it and we are now blessed with their works.

      I confess, I still need my ‘misunderstood genius’ part to keep me forging on at times, but when my ‘I’m-a-misunderstood-genius’ part interferes with my learning or moving on, that’s a problem for me. Sounds to me you don’t have any problem with moving on to success! Sprinkle some of that chutzpah over here to neurotic-writer me!

  17. Abigail Reynolds

    I hear you about the internal editor! Mine is merciless. I have to pretend that no one will ever read what I’m writing or I can’t get a word out. Maybe I need some duct tape and a stuffed animal, too.

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi Abigail,

      Merciless internal editor is what separates the stellar from the so-so, many self-critical writers feel this. My creative process needs mercy–from me.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  18. PamalaKnight

    Excellent advice! I’m going to print out a copy of this and put it right beside my laptop so I won’t forget. I’m guilty of almost ALL of the things you’ve railed against, but hopefully I’m past the first step on the road to getting it right. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    Congratulations!!

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi J.H. Trumble,

      May I say I’m wow’ed by ‘Don’t Let Me Go’, your tenderly written novel? I’m humbled and honored you stopped by here on my guest column. Thank you.

      I admit at first I thought the stuffed animal idea was hooey. (I’m a ‘serious’ writer, I don’t do stuffed animals.) But, I did the assignment because I’m a good student. Something about having a concrete objected duct-taped nearby helps shut-up the internal editor in a way that abstract positive thoughts didn’t for me, I discovered.

      NaNoWriMo is definitely when a duct-taped internal editor is needed!

      1. J.H. Trumble

        What a small world this cyber-world can be sometimes! :) Yes, DLMG is my debut! Thank you for reading it, and for your kind comments.

        In the past I’ve had students write their fears on little cutout men, then sequester them in a dog kennel for the month of November, but your stuffed animal thingy is sooo much better.

        Can’t wait to get my hands on COMPULSIVELY MR. DARCY. It sounds like its right up my alley. Congratulations!

  19. Lina Moder

    Great advice! Especially about being kind to oneself. Usually that’s the last thing that happens and people never forgive their mistakes.

    Thanks so much!

    linamoder at gmail dot com

    1. Nina Benneton

      Hi Lina,

      Yeah, why is it we find it hard to forgive our mistakes as writers? Even if something so simple as a character having two butts (I think ahem…many women would agree that they have more than one butt) or looking over her shoulders ( my character’s Linda Blair?)?

      We spend way too many hours writing not to be kind to ourselves, eh?

      Thank you for commenting. I say, be kind to yourself all the way to the top of NYT bestseller list, Lina!

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