7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Jessica Anya Blau

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 Jessica Anya Blau. Jessica Anya Blau's second novel, Drinking Closer to Home (Harper) was released in Jan. 2011. Her first novel, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, was picked as a Best Summer Book by the Today Show, the New York Post, and New York Magazine.
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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 Jessica Anya Blau, author of DRINKING CLOSER TO HOME) 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.

Jessica is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Suzanne won.)


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Jessica Anya Blau's second novel, Drinking Closer
to Home (Harper) was released in Jan. 2011. Her
first novel, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties,
was picked as a Best Summer Book by the Today
Show, the New York Post, and New York Magazine.
Jessica grew up in Southern California where both
her novels are set, and currently lives in Baltimore.
She teaches at Goucher College.See her website here.


1. Be fearless.
It takes courage to write when there’s only a chance that you’ll be published. It takes courage to be honest in writing, to present a complex inner life (of yourself or your characters) that is often dark, or unkind, or slightly crazy. It takes courage to write stuff that would make your mother gasp, your husband roll his eyes, and your children blush and hide. But if you want to write, you have to do it in spite of all this. Don’t show your writing to your parents and children, ignore your spouse, and pretend that no one will ever read what you’re writing. (This is what I tell myself when I’m feeling hindered by a projected response.) You are alive now, you have a computer, you can type. Banish the difficult people, including your publishing-obsessed self, from your psyche and write anyway. Be brave.

2. Be authentic. Here are the paradoxes of “false” writing: When you try to sound smart you sound dumb. When you try to sound fancy you sound provincial. When you try to sound sexy, you sound unappealing. Readers can see right through writing that is contrived and false. They’ll stop reading. And why would you want to spend your time writing anything wasn’t coming straight from your heart and soul?

3. (And the best way to be authentic is to ... ) Ignore your ego. Your ego is a nasty, furry, little bugger who will sabotage your writing. Your ego wants to broadcast facts about you, the author, through your story. Your ego wants to display how brilliant and educated you are. Your ego wants everyone to think that you’re virile, sexy, alluring. Whether those things are true or not, they have nothing to do with a good story. Ask yourself if what you’re writing really moves the story forward or conveys character. If it doesn’t, chances are your ego has silently slipped in and is trying to display its matted head.

4. Keep moving forward.
If you’ve ever traveled, you know what it’s like to be totally lost and slightly panicked because you don’t believe you have the skills (language, a good map, lots of money) to find the place where you think you need to be. The thing you don’t do, is sit on a street corner and wait for the place to come to you. You know that will never happen. Instead, you start walking. Or you get on the subway. You might even hop in a cab. Eventually, after you’ve moved long enough, you end up somewhere. It might be the Musée d’Orsay instead of the Musée National Picasso where you originally planned to spend the day. No matter, you’re still somewhere interesting. Do the same thing when you write. If you’re stuck, just keep writing in any direction. You might not move your story to the place you originally intended, but you will be somewhere new. And somewhere new will lead you to somewhere else, which will lead you to another somewhere, until you’ve found your way to the end.

5. (And when you absolutely can’t move forward ... ) Walk backward. Literally. Stand up and do a backward lap around whatever room you’re in. It will jiggle your mind a bit, loosen your senses. The first draft of the novel I’m working on now was spurred on by almost daily backward laps around my house.

6. Don’t take anything personally.
You are not your books and stories. You exist outside of them no matter what anyone says and does. A rejection says nothing about you, it simply says that a random person, whom you’ve probably never met, was feeling a certain way on the day he read your work. This is a statement about that person. It is not a statement about you. Accept your rejections and move on.

7. Be open to suggestions but at the same time have faith in yourself.
That bugger of an ego wants everyone who reads your work to rise and give you a standing ovation. This will, probably, never happen. If all you want is praise, read your work aloud to your dog and let him lick you on the face for it. If you want constructive criticism, however, listen closely to what your readers are saying. Then listen to your gut. Your gut knows how to ignore your ego (who wants to reject everything but applause). And your gut can weed out helpful comments from destructive ones. If your gut doesn’t believe what you’re being told, then have faith in yourself and carry on as you were: fearless, authentic, without an ego, and forward-moving.


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