7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Christine Fonseca

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 Christine Fonseca. School psychologist by day and lover of books by night, Christine Fonseca started writing as a way to blend the two.
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This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Christine Fonseca, author of EMOTIONAL INTENSITY FOR GIFTED STUDENTS) 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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School psychologist by day and lover of books
by night, Christine Fonseca started writing
as a way to blend the two. Her upcoming books include
Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids
Cope with Explosive Feelings (Prufrock Press 2010) and
The Ultimate Guide for Gifted Kids (Prufrock Press, 2011).
She also writes teen fiction. See her website here.

1. It’s all just words. Authors are funny—we get so attached to the words we write. So much so, that we occasionally get hung up on the changes we need to make; changes suggested by critique partners, agents, and editors. We forget that it’s all just words. If something isn’t right, we can change it by simply rearranging the words. For me, figuring out that I didn’t need to feel permanently attached to my words was the most liberating moment I’ve felt over the last 18 months.

2. Authenticity is everything. An authentic voice is what makes our characters believable and our stories resonate with truth. It is also what makes us approachable and “real” online. Being authentic is not always easy. We sometimes get lost in the “noise” of the business aspects of this profession—the trends, the rejection, and the pressures. For me, figuring out my authentic voice as an author has enabled me to figure out how to begin to brand myself as an author. This is something vital in today’s market. Likewise, learning how to be authentic with my characters gives me the ability to bring different voices to each story. And that keeps them fresh.

3. Forge your own path. This has been said before, but there really are many paths towards publication. It is as unique a journey as the person taking it. Comparing yourself to anyone else will only make you distrust your own path. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn from the road other’s travel—you should. But be sure to tailor what has worked for them to your own journey—without comparisons or self-deprecation. This really is a case where the journey means more than the destination. It is the journey that will shape your future as a writer.

4. This really is that hard. Yep, writing is absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done—by far. And trust me, I have tackled some pretty difficult things in my lifetime. I think it is so hard because it is so personal. We pour a little piece of ourselves into everything we write. Then we hold it up to impossible scrutiny as our critique partners, agents, and editors rip it apart and help us find the best story within our words. Over and over we repeat this process. Over and over we deal with rejection, criticism, and our own personal demons. So, the next time you're angsting over something related to this business, remind yourself that it really is that hard, and give yourself a little break.

5. Perfection is a myth. Have you ever finished your nine millionth revision of your current book only to feel like you have a million more revisions to go? Yeah, me too. I think we get wrapped up in the “myth” of perfection and begin to think we are striving for absolute perfection with our stories before we can pronounce them done. Rather than perfection, I have learned that I am striving for the best story I can write right now. My support system—critique partners, agent, and editors—will tell me what isn’t working, where the story breaks down. And I will fix the problems. But sooner or later, you have to trust that the story is the best it can be and let it go.

6. Critique partners are as essential as air. I wish I had learned this one earlier in my writing career. It would have saved me from a couple of shelved novels. My critique partners are experts at helping me pull out the best story (as discussed above). They speak my language, are brutally honest and offer great suggestions. It took me a long time to find one or two critique partners that “got” what I was going for with my writing. And let me tell you, it has made all the difference in the world. I really can’t imagine sending off my manuscript to my agent or editor without having gone through my partners first.

7. This is a business—treat it as such. Being a writer is a creative endeavor. But being a published author is a business—and should be treated as such. Like any business, my job is to produce a great product and sell it to others. To do this, I must continually hone my craft, learn the marketing aspect of the job, have my finger on the pulse of my customer (in this case the reader) and react in a timely manner to changes in my particular market. Doing these things, treating it is a professional manner, will help ensure a long life in a tough business.

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