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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Lisa Lawmaster Hess

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 Lisa Lawmaster Hess. Lisa Lawmaster Hess is a Jersey girl, school counselor and the author of two books: Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce, both inspired by her interactions with her students.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, author of ACTING ASSERTIVELY) 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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Lisa Lawmaster Hess is a Jersey girl, school counselor
and the author of two books: Acting Assertively and
Diverse Divorce, both inspired by her interactions with
her students. Lisa's articles have appeared regionally,
nationally and online in publications ranging from Wee
Teach to Mature Lifestyles. She is currently going
through the dreaded revision process on her middle
grade novel, and happily creating new chapters for a
novel for the Christian market.See her website here.


1. Writers are generous people.
You'd think that in an industry as competitive as publishing, people would be cutthroat and selfish. Perhaps there are writers like that out there, but if so, I haven't met any of them. To a person, the writers I've met have been gracious, sharing their time, resources and wisdom with those who are traveling on the same path, and willing to serve as mentors to those who are serious about improving their craft. Though the writing itself is a solitary pursuit—or perhaps because of this—writers themselves are quick to form a community.

2. Agents are people, too. They have good days and bad days ... but no magic wands. In my experience, most are as gracious as the aforementioned writers, and when you meet an agent who loves your work as much as you do, it's truly gratifying. That encounter, however, comes with no guarantees, and means—even if you sign a contract—that the work must go on. In fact, signing that contract may mean that the hard work is just beginning.

3. Critique groups are irreplaceable. No one else knows what you're going through in quite the same way, and without them, our writing can become pretentious, or worse yet, stagnant. They yank us off our high horses, and expect us to do the same for them, as well as forcing us to go one step further to make the words do things we never knew they could. And sometimes, if we're really lucky, these people become our friends, too.

4. Never submit anything without sleeping on it. Unless you will miss a deadline, always let your final draft simmer overnight. It's easy to become enamored of the words we have placed so lovingly on the page—so much so that little details like punctuation and dropped words slip right by us. Both a clear head and a sharp eye are necessary for complete editing, and those tools rarely appear in the afterglow of a writing triumph.

5. Revising is hard. I know writers who love the revision process. I am not one of those writers. I would much rather be creating characters, putting new ideas on the page, filling a blank screen with letters, words and paragraphs. Cutting scenes? Rewriting sections I've already put on the page once? Must I?? Sigh. Yes, I must. For me, revising is like going to the dentist. I know I have to do it, and so I do, but I'm happiest when it's over.

6. Not everyone can write from an outline. Nor can everyone write every day. Instead of being tools that help my writing, outlines and schedules dam up my ideas, leaving me tense and staring at a blank page, while the ideas stay jammed up behind a muddy mental barrier. When I first started writing, I thought that meant that I was flawed in some way, or at the very least, undisciplined and not serious enough about my writing. Over the nearly two decades that I've been working at writing, I've come to terms with the fact that not everyone works in the same way and what's important is that I write, not how I write.

7. Take advantage of every opportunity to write. All writing "counts." Journal if that's your style. Blog. Write for your church newsletter. Play with words every chance you get because that's what makes you better, more facile, less restrained, more willing to take chances. More important, that's what keeps writing fun.

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