This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by F. Gerard Jefferson) 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.
1. It’s not me; it’s the revision. (Or sometimes, it’s the shoes.) Yeah, you’ve heard about this revision thing before, and you’ve probably also heard that anyone—yes, even you!—can become a better writer. But I don’t necessarily agree with this world view. Here’s what I think. I think I’m the same writer I was seven years ago. I’m a better writer not because of anything I’ve written, but because of everything I’ve erased. You can become a better writer, too, but it’ll take some time, maybe even years, to become a better self-editor. The good thing about it is, as a wannabe writer, time is on your side.
2. That egg you see? It’s yours, and it’s all over your face. You’re going to make mistakes. Know that from the beginning. In your manuscript. In your formal requests for a prom date. In response to all the “Ewww! I’m not going with you!” rejections you’re going to get. Some mistakes will be minor. Others might get you reported to your Internet service provider, or ridiculed on the blog of some famously anonymous literary agent/editor. But it’s okay. You can survive. Take that egg and whip yourself up an omelet, and while you’re at it, fix me some, too. Hunger is the perfect equalizer for embarrassment.
3. Continuing with the prom theme, while you’re at home working on your moves, don’t forget the writer’s anthem: Back that thang up! I’ll be the first to admit it: Redundant, as a word, sounds suspiciously close to dunce. But how do you think I felt when my Quantex computer died in 2004 and I didn’t have redundant copies of all my work? Now I’m somewhat of a Napoleon about backup systems with three tiers of tyrannical protection, but I sleep easy at night. Or, at least, I try to.
4. Writing your book is just the beginning. I remember when I finished my first novel a few years ago. I thought the majority of the work was done. If I could go back in time, I’d slap myself. Hard.
5. Short stories are harder to write than novels. If you’ve been paying attention, you know airplane pilots have been all over the news lately, not for well they take-off, but how well they land. As a writer, your job is to land that big, hulking idea you’ve got, and make sure as few people as possible get injured in the process, or that your name doesn’t get associated with negligence. As one pilot to another: Just know it’s easier to do this when there’s a lot of runway to play with.
6. However long you think it’s going to take, add five years. There are two things in life you never do: Never ask a woman her age; and never ask a writer how long they’ve been unpublished. If you decide to break this rule, and the woman/writer asks you to guess, always underestimate.
7. Temper your expectations. It’s okay to dream, but that deadline for finding a perfect New York agent that I’m sure you have? In my humble opinion, you should throw it out the window.
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