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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Ellen Airgood

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 writerEllen Airgood. 1. Smile. A little before the release date, I wrote and asked my cousin Mary, a 26-year bookstore employee, if she had any advice for me about doing store events. “Make eye contact and smile,” she wrote back. I felt a sudden zoom of confidence. I knew I could do that. It was a skill I’d taught myself when I started waiting tables for a living. Her only other comment was, “Some of these authors, you’d think they were born under a rock.” So, note to self: avoid seeming as if born beneath rock.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Ellen Airgood, author of SOUTH OF SUPERIOR) 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.

(Never open your novel with a dream -- here's why.)

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Ellen Airgood is the author of SOUTH OF SUPERIOR,
a debut praised by Booklist and Kirkus.
See her author website here.

It’s been just over a month since my first novel was released. Staring back across that divide of before it came out and after, it’s hard to remember what I imagined it would be like. There were some things I know I was nervous about, though. Here’s the advice I’d give that very slightly younger me:

1. Smile.  A little before the release date, I wrote and asked my cousin Mary, a 26-year bookstore employee, if she had any advice for me about doing store events. “Make eye contact and smile,” she wrote back. I felt a sudden zoom of confidence. I knew I could do that. It was a skill I’d taught myself when I started waiting tables for a living. Her only other comment was, “Some of these authors, you’d think they were born under a rock.” So, note to self: avoid seeming as if born beneath rock.

2. Trust the process. Know there’s a lot you can’t control and don’t need to. Do your best in the areas that are your responsibility and let the rest go. Let people do their jobs. Accept that what will happen, will happen.

3. Say thank you. So many people contribute to the creation of a book. When mine arrived in boxes on the UPS truck, I was overwhelmed. It was so beautiful: its cheery dust jacket and red cloth spine, its speckled cover boards and elegant type, its fluttery pages and the story contained in them—it was a book. There are so many people who help make that happen, for every author. They don’t mind being thanked.

4. Don’t read reviews. Or at least, don’t set too much store in them, good or bad. Let the book remain itself to you, full of flaws and strengths, like anyone.

5. Be a good parent. I think of myself as the book’s caretaker. It’s as if the novel is a sentient being, an individual separate from me, a very special creature with great strengths but also certain disabilities, one who just a needs a little help with certain things. The book can speak, for example, but not on the radio. I have to do that. It travels well but needs a valet, someone to carry its bags and order breakfast. The book is friendly, but a little shy. It needs me to introduce it. It helps me to think this way, to remember that none of this is about me. It’s all about the book.

(Ever want to adapt your novel/memoir into a screenplay? Here are 7 tips.)

6. Read your work out loud as you write. Follow that advice you see everywhere. Follow it before you’re sitting in front of a microphone in an NPR affiliate studio, reading an excerpt on the radio and thinking, “What?! That doesn’t make any sense, did I really write that?” Also, slow down. Don’t read too fast. It wouldn’t hurt to practice this beforehand.

7. Celebrate. In the middle of last winter, six months before my release date, I said to my husband with some uncertainty, “Soooo, do you think maybe I should throw some kind of little party on June 9th, and like—invite people?” (I’d never really thrown a party before). His response was, pretty much, “Duh.” So we threw a party, and half the world came. It was wonderful and I’ll never forget it. My advice is to enjoy the ride and savor all the new experiences.

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