7 Things I’ve Learned So Far: Joanne Brothwell

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Joanne Brothwell, author of STEALING BREATH) 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: Joanne 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: Simeon won.)



Joanne Brothwell is the author of STEALING BREATH, a
paranormal romance from Crescent Moon Press (March 2012).
Find Joanne’s blog here. Also, you can find Joanne on Twitter.



1. Learn The Craft. This is advice I wish I’d listened to before diving into writing my first novel, head-first. Instead, I wrote the first draft and then started to learn about writing. Tip: this method is painful. If I’d put that time into learning the craft instead of just powering ahead, I would have saved myself innumerable hours wasted on revision. Or was it time wasted? Perhaps, it wasn’t all a waste. Learning how to write after the first draft may have its advantages. Firstly, I had more of an investment in learning the information (I had a manuscript I wanted to sell), plus I had the ability to put the learning into practice (on my manuscript). So, um, ignore this advice. Just write.

2. Revise. Be prepared to revise, rework and rewrite that manuscript. Being a writer includes a great deal of time consuming, non-creative work, and the sooner we accept that, the closer we are to having a product that might just sell. First drafts are the fast, easy part (Well, not that fast!), but the revisions go on for long after those final words are typed on the last page. Hunker down and revise.

Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to be wrong. Let go of the heart-wrenchingly difficulty scene that took us three weeks to write, remove the perfectly fleshed-out character we love, or the delete the terrifying monster we were convinced was our greatest brain-child ever. When I’ve admitted to cutting 50,000 words in one sitting, people are amazed. What? Why? It hurts, yes. It’s disheartening. But sometimes, it’s essential to making the story work. Don’t get too invested in anything, keep an impartial, detached attitude about your book. This is business. If it doesn’t work, cut it, end of story.

(Adapt your book into a movie script — here’s how.)

3. Seek out critiques. I have to admit, I hate critiques. I absolutely loathe them. When I get a critique in my Inbox, it usually sits there for a day before I can even open the document. When I read through it, I’m typically screaming profanities in my mind the entire time. After, I turn off my computer and vow to delete the person from my Facebook account immediately. Instead, I tell my husband what an evil individual they are, cry a little, and sleep on it. The next day, I get up and get working on the revisions.

It’s quite possible those harsh words will come up later if your manuscript ever makes it to an editor’s desk, so rather than get stuck on being defensive and stubbornly sticking to your guns, why not save yourself the time? Which brings me to the next point.

4. Don’t be defensive. Defensiveness is a roadblock to communication, and sometimes when we defend our little baby (our manuscript) too much, we inadvertently silence the person from providing potentially valuable feedback. Who hasn’t experienced the frustration of being asked for feedback, only to have it met with reasons why the feedback is incorrect or worse yet, a hostile reaction?  We all want to be right, and have a need to be seen as competent, but we have to check our egos at the door. Instead, be open and listen. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

5. Listen to your gut. This point may seem contrary to the previous two, but I need to put it in so we stay true to ourselves! Along the way I had a lot of unsolicited advice and opinions from friends, family and other writers, and if I’d listened to it all, my novel would be completely unrecognizable. I always listen carefully to advice, mull it over for a few days, and then extract the information that is useful to me, and leave the rest. The heart of my story has stayed the same, even from that very first draft. I knew from the beginning it was a story I yearned to read myself, and that was the story I wrote, despite the advice. My gut kept me on track.

(What does it mean when an agent says “This isn’t right for me”?)

6. Seek out opportunities. Don’t be a wallflower. If you’re an introvert like me, stop it! I’m sure most writers enjoy their alone time, but if you want your career to move forward, shyness is not a virtue. If you are shy, pretend to be an extrovert, it works! Fake it ‘til you make it, baby. Join writer’s groups and talk. Enter contests and put your work and yourself out there. Go to conferences and promote your book and make sure you chat up industry people, such as super-cool editors (Chuck of the GLA blog!). Who knows what can happen. One day you may just end up on a very reputable blog!

Recently I attended two conventions where I promoted my book like a wild woman. I pitched it to every reader I came across, every blogger, to a movie producer; I even plugged it with a movie star! Yes – you heard that correctly – I told Kat Graham of the Vampire Diaries about my book! Kat was not only interested, but she also asked for a promotional postcard so she could buy it!

My point? Kat Graham would have never have heard of my book if I’d been a shrinking violet.

7. Always, always put your loved ones first. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Writing can very easily become all-consuming, the way it sucks up time and brain space. If we’re not careful, our passion in life can become the enemy to our friends and family members. Whenever I hear my children complain about my computer being more important to me than them, I know I need to scale the writing time back and ramp up my real life. Besides, who wants to be a one-dimensional person? Live your life, and enjoy it; and the added side benefit is that your writing will reflect your real-life, well-rounded existence.

GIVEAWAY: Joanne 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: Simeon won.)



If you’re interested in a variety of my resources on your
journey to securing an agent, don’t forget to check
out my personal Instructor of the Month Kit, created by
Writer’s Digest Books. It’s got books & webinars packaged
together at a 73% discount. Available while supplies last.

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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40 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far: Joanne Brothwell

  1. RedHeadedViking

    Thanks, Joanne! Lots of good advice – especially numbers 6 and 7. Number 6 is the one that I really struggle with – I’m an introvert too. “Fake it ‘til you make it, baby.” I think that needs to be my new mantra!

    I’m working on the revisions to my first novel now – with the aid of an independent editor. My goal is to have the manusript ready to send to agents or self-publish by mid-2013, preferably earlier. Which means that I’m definitely going to have to learn to “fake it” soon!

  2. beanshank

    I really needed to hear the part about cutting out 50,000 words. That tends to be my problem–getting too attached and not wanting to cut out parts, because I like it all. It’s good to be reminded that the heart of the story can still remain even if things change around it. Thank you for this.

  3. LisaF

    Great advice! I struggle with the self-promotion bit. The idea of it has kept me from submitting my novels to agents and/or editors. I have had critiques – some helpful, some not. I’m printing this blog for quick reference when I need a reminder of what I need to do to succeed. Thanks.

  4. andresfragosojr

    I write great stories. Or so my head tells me so. What I find hard is finding a person than give me a good critique. I’ve asked family and friends to read my stories and honestly, no one wants to read it in draft form. Or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know.
    I’ve joined critique groups and I ask for them to bleed on my draft. Yes, I know stop using cliche’s, but I just love this one. Bleed on my draft. Hehe.
    I agree with you though. I should have learned how to write rather than just write from my gut. It’s been a good ten years (maybe eleven, I lost count) since I wrote Speaking Grace. It has gone through so many changes. I’ve deleted characters, added characters, combined characters and improved some of them. I am ready to give up on the whole writing thing. However, I read your blog and NO. I’m not giving up.

  5. HuffmanHanni

    I found 4,5, and 6 spoke to me the most. #4 because I don’t mind constructive feedback, sometimes the way people phrase it doesn’t come off as constructive at all and I get really upset. After my initial ‘This person is an idiot!” I re-read what they said and sometimes it makes sense. What I really don’t like is the condescending phrase ‘I know you can do better. I expect better from you’ when the person doesn’t even know me at all. I think that might be one of the flaws on online critquing.

    #5 I struggle with because by nature, if someone says I need to fix something, I do my best to fix it, no matter what it is, to please them. Since I’ve only been writing less than an year, I’ve self-conscious about what I write because I assuming the person giving me feedback has been doing it so long, they must know what’s right and wrong. However, I have to tell myself, this is my writing. This is the way I express myself and I am developing my own style. It will appeal to some, I hope, but not everyone and there are certainly plenty of things I’ve read that just didn’t do it for me. It’s been helpful reading some of my favorite author’s websites and seeing examples of how they agree or disagree with comments from their editors and agents.

    #6 scares me because I am very introverted and soically dumb but I do look forward to joining the local writer’s group next year because I’ve gotten the impression that other writers want to be helpful to each other and encourage each other. I’m not looking forward to schilling if I every get to the point of being published but I do understand that is the business side of it and if I’m not passionate about what I wrote, why would anyone be interested in reading it?

    1. Joanne Brothwell

      Hi, Huffman,

      Great points. I couldn’t agree more about your thoughts on how people phrase feedback. Condescending, sarcastic and patronizing are definitely the most annoying, and if any of those three are present, I have a hard time even considering what the criticism is.

      #6 still scares me too. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it!

  6. Annette Bower

    Hi Joanne,
    Great tips. I think most of us feel that way about critiques. Great that you relent and begin to assess the critique. It is hardest to see the missing pieces in our own manuscript.
    Yours truly,

  7. aaronmritcheywrites

    Great list, Joanne! Though for new writers, I tell them to write their first novel any way they want. Experience the joy, the passion, the unfettered dreaming…

    Then once they write their first novel, learn the craft, and write a second one!

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Joanne Brothwell

      Thanks Aaron,

      The joy, passion, unfettered dreaming… that was definitely the best part, wasn’t it?

      Good suggestion, to learn the craft and write a second book. I didn’t do it that way, but perhaps should have, since the whole first novel was completely re-written!

  8. Ardent Muse

    Yes.. Very good outline of tips. My biggest challenge that was addressed is #6 – I’m not gregarious by nature and REALLY have to “Jeckle & Hyde” myself into coming out of my shell. I’m only beginning to get started in a carreer in writing, I love writing and spending time with words as if they were pieces of clay I use to mold my final work of art. So I can and do get carried away with the time-consuming process of that, not only for the sake of creating art, but because I’m a perfectionist, and appreciate the tip to putting loved ones first… (My fear is losing that train of thought or great idea when you’re “on a roll”, so herein lies the challenge of balancing the two.)

    1. Joanne Brothwell

      Hello, Ardent!

      I also really have to force myself to be extroverted, it is far easier to be a wallflower. I like your concept of “Jeckle and Hyde” with respect to #6, and I wonder – if we think of it as a persona or an act, perhaps it will be easier to be outgoing?

      Good luck with your writing career, and balancing your passion with life’s responsibilities!

      1. Ardent Muse

        I’m a behind-the-scenes kinda “guy” – one who watches from a distance, analyzing & dissecting all the details that I see around me, … not at all the “Movie star with Sunglasses, Cape, & Poodle in arm, lavishing in the limelight of flashing cameras, outreached hands begging for autographs, and standing ovations while on stage” – (well, that’s how any attempt at “self-publicity” if not just being in public makes me feel, anyway)…

        So, that’s just it… I find you have to think of it as an act – playing out a role while remaining separate from the scene as it unfolds, as if in the middle of an out-of-body experience, while keeping its ultimate purpose in mind – (getting published!) I’ve even entertained the idea of taking acting classes just to get a better grip on how to accomplish this, but, my feathers sprout & molt, so I resort to the next best thing – observe others who ARE naturally outgoing, then imitate THEM! For me, the blank canvas of a Word Document is MY stage – wherein, for a moment, I have the mic & the “audience’s” attention to “showcase my act”, … and I don’t even have to BE there for it! (lol) Talk about the best of both worlds! 😀 (OK…. Clichés sprinkled about for the sake of WD’s cliché challenge on Twitter ;D

        But thank you for responding and for wishing me good luck. I’m hoping to find my niche in writing professionally quickly, so any tips on how to accomplish that are welcomed and appreciated.

        P.S. Tip for posting on the web: This is a 2nd rewrite as my 1st was received by an error message after I clicked “post comment” – therefore, TYPE YOUR RESPONSE ON A WORD DOCUMENT, SAVE AS YOU GO ALONG, THEN CUT ‘N PASTE THE DERN THING TO THE COMMENT BOX! [Grrrrr >:( 40 minutes fades into the distance & precious words lost forever! ]


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