7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Darien Gee

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 Darien Gee. Darien Gee is the author of Friendship Bread: A Novel (Ballantine; April 2011). She’s also the national bestselling author of three novels under the name Mia King (Good Things, Sweet Life, and Table Manners).
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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 Darien Gee, author of FRIENDSHIP BREAD) 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.

Darien is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; 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: Larry won.)

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Darien Gee is the author of Friendship Bread: A Novel
(Ballantine; April 2011). She’s also the national
bestselling author of three novels under the name
Mia King (Good Things, Sweet Life, and Table
Manners). Visit Darien in her virtual kitchen,
Friendship Bread Kitchen, or on Facebook
where she has more than 25,000 fans.

1. Understand the difference between writing and the business of writing. Writing is a creative process; the business of writing is sales and marketing. As a published author, you have a responsibility to do both. In fact, there will be times where you’ll be spending more time with the business of writing rather than writing itself, which is frustrating for many authors. But remember: without the business of writing, no one would be reading your work and you really wouldn’t be able to quit your day job. So this is actually a good thing, therefore approach your business responsibilities wholeheartedly. They are different sides of the same coin, and that coin goes into your pocket if you do it right.

2. Express gratitude for the people who said yes.
Your agent. Your editor. Your publisher. Your readers. Your spouse or significant other. Regularly express thanks to the people who have supported you and your writing by saying yes to that first novel, to that extra time you needed to write, to buying your book and giving up their own valuable time to read it.

3. Listen to the voice that matters most: yours. As writers we’re good at listening to our characters: what they want, what they need, who they really are. We need to do the same for ourselves. Should you stay with that agent? Should you make the proposed changes to a manuscript? Should you write the novel everyone is saying not to bother with? Or should you just give up? The writer’s journey pushes you to listen carefully. Remember that so much of what makes good writing also makes good living, and give yourself the same respect you give your characters.

4. Expect the best. Yes, the economy may be in a downturn. Yes, it may be harder than ever to get published. Yes, publishers may not be able to commit as many resources to a book as before. If you gather with other writers, you’ll hear a laundry list of what isn’t working. Well, those things may be true, but so is this: some booksellers are doing well. People are still buying books. People are still reading. There are new writers hitting the New York Times bestseller lists all the time. Publishers do stand behind titles they’re excited about which, given the careful consideration every manuscript is given before an offer is made, is almost their entire list. When you approach this writing and publication life as half full rather than half empty, you significantly raise your chances of being successful and (here’s a thought) happy.

5. It’s OK to take a break. I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage that to be a writer you have to write. While this is true, I know writers who spend a lot of time in front of their computer, frustrated and anxious as they spin their wheels trying to revive a manuscript or come up with a new one. I think we actually have a new phenomenon where people are overwriting. If this is you (and you’ll know if it is), my suggestion is to just stop. Save your work and go on vacation, or go to the library and check out a stack of movies (not books). Take a break and give yourself a break. I’ll go for weeks without writing. You’ll know when it’s time to sit back down again.

6. It’s not over until it’s over, Which is pretty much never. Don’t despair if your writing career isn’t taking off in the way you had expected. Don’t stress out if your sales numbers are “trending” down. Don’t look at fellow authors who seem to have everything lined up while you have “nothing.” Anything is possible, and we see it all the time in this business. The comeback, the breakout book, the movie deal. Every business goes through a cycle of ups and downs, and the business of writing is no different.

7. A business plan: Map out your writing career. If you were going to start your own business, you’d write a business plan. You’d come up with an executive summary and look at the competitive landscape to determine the best approach. You’d set goals, have objectives, run the financials. If you’re committed to building a lifetime career as a writer, then consider drafting a business plan so you are clear about where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there.

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