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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Annette Lyon

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Annette Lyon. Annette Lyon has published seven novels (including four historicals), won Utah’s 2007 Best of State medal for fiction, and has sold nearly 100 articles. Her October 2010 release, Chocolate Never Faileth, was a tasty departure from fiction.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Annette Lyon, author of CHOCOLATE NEVER FAILETH) 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.

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Annette Lyon has published seven novels
(including four historicals), won Utah’s 2007
Best of State medal for fiction, and has sold
nearly 100 articles. Her October 2010 release,
Chocolate Never Faileth, was a tasty departure
from fiction. When she's not reading, writing, or
knitting, she's blogging at The Lyon’s Tale.

1. A solid critique group is worth its weight in gold. I made gradual improvements during my early rejection years, but it’s absolutely no coincidence that the acceptance for my first published novel came after taking an entire manuscript through the critique process. My group began with all aspiring but unpublished writers. Over a decade later, we’ve published over two dozen books among us and won a number of awards.

2. A messy manuscript is an unread manuscript. No matter how brilliant the story concept, a manuscript won’t be read if the grammar, usage, and punctuation are so bad that they keep the agent or editor hitting mental speed bumps. If the core language elements are in place, they aren’t even noticed. But aside from getting read, a manuscript is more likely to be published if it’s clean. Messy manuscripts cost time and money get into shape. A managing editor recently told me how her house recently passed on a book they loved because clean-up would have cost too much.

3. Writers are weird. Therefore, find other weird people for support. Writing is a solitary, bubble-like experience. Only other writers can fully understand what it’s like to have dialogue in their heads, plot ideas hit them during the news, or want to strangle a character because she won’t behave. If I haven’t seen or talked with writing friends in awhile, I start to twitch. Seek out fellow writers at conferences, workshops, and online.

4. Even though publishing takes time, don’t take shortcuts. The pipeline can be maddeningly slow, something most readers don’t have a clue about it. When readers heard I’d turned in my cookbook manuscript in October of 2009, some asked if they could buy it for Christmas gifts that same year. (Sure ... because publishers just send the text to a copy center ... ?) But the speed of the pipeline doesn’t mean you should try hurrying things up: Don’t rush research, drafting, revision, or any other steps. Those things, done well, will get you into the pipeline in the first place and get you a strong final product.

5. Writing well takes work. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals require years of schooling. That flawless piano concerto has years of scales and countless hours of practice behind it. Writing is no different. Learning the craft isn’t something you can do overnight, and the education never ends. Put in as much time and effort into your writing as a heart surgeon did into learning his skill, and eventually you’ll find success.

6. It’s not about you. No matter what the response to your work is, don’t take it personally. Rejections and bad reviews are about the work. A corollary: an acceptance or a five-star review isn’t about you either. Watch the size of that head.

7. Celebrate every success, no matter how small. Writers live on a funky emotional see-saw: One minute, we think we’re amazing, and the next, a criticism assures us that any word we type is drivel. To keep your writing spirit alive, celebrate every step, whether it’s nailing a scene, finishing a new manuscript, getting a request for a partial, making a reader laugh or cry, or receiving a short e-mail from a reader saying they stayed up until three in the morning because they couldn’t put your book down. Don’t brush off any success. Every bit matters. When the see-saw flips the other direction—and it will—pull out those good memories.

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