This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Macie Smith) 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.
Macie Smith is a contributing writer for
seveneightfive magazine (www.seveneightfive.com).
She also writes young adult fiction, poetry, and
dabbles in short stories. You can learn more
about her at www.maciesmith.com
1. Participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). NaNoWriMo challenges you to write a 50,000-word story in one month. You can’t look back; you must move forward. For writers at any level, it’s an intense challenge that builds discipline and fuels passion. Even when the Muses stop granting inspiration, you dig deep and write. Crossing the 50,000 word finish line never felt so good. The event takes place in November. Learn more at www.nanowrimo.org.
2. Words matter. They are precious jewels in the building of a palace. You must labor over each one. Make every word count. Avoid adverbs (those nasty boogers that end in –ly) wherever possible. How does a person stand angrily? Do they jut out a hip, cross their arms, or stomp a foot. It’s your job to show the reader. And for heaven’s sake, find another way to say a character “walked.” Walking is boring. Meandering, slinking, sashaying, or dashing about all make a scene come to life.
3. Edit other people’s work. It’s much easier to see the mistakes other writers make than to see your own, but chances are, you’re making the same ones. After you’ve spent time editing someone else’s piece, it’ll be easier to see where you need growth.
4. Remove yourself from your work before you edit. More editing advice? You bet ya! I can’t overemphasize editing because it’s where the rubber meets the road. Editing is where your idea is refined to gold. Put away your work. Give it at least a week or two before you look at it again, but a month is better, maybe even several months. You’ve drowned in words during the creative process and your piece will seem like a masterpiece, but after some space, you’ll see its true nature. Furthermore, don’t treat your work like its your baby, especially when you share personal events. They may be intimate and special, but they may not further your piece’s overall message. Giving yourself that space makes it easier to cut unnecessary details and hear other people’s critiques.
5. Become a name in your local writing community. Join a writers group for un-biased feedback (yes, your family and friends always think your work is fabulous). Write for local publications. Enter local contests. See if your local college has a literary journal/magazine. You may not get paid, but you’ll grow as a writer and build credentials. You’ll meet people who share your passion for writing. Plus, when you still aren’t published nationally, it feels nice to have some local recognition.
6. Connect to the larger writing community via the interwebs. This will give you perspective on the large size of the writing world, but it’s also a great resource. I’ve accumulated a vast wealth of knowledge by reading agent and writer blogs and following agents, authors, writers, and publishers on Twitter. But here’s the key: I followed their advice. You don’t know better then those who’ve been there. When agents say too many stories start with a dream sequence, I make sure I don’t use one. When authors share advice on writing techniques, I use them. My writing has only improved. If you want published, you need flawless writing, but you also need a grasp of the publishing industry. Staying connected and listening will take you a long way.
7. Persevere. In the words of Amy Grant (words we hope aren’t immortalized), “it takes a little time sometime.” But in this case, it takes a lot of time. Be patient. You won’t get it done overnight, in fact, you’re doing good to have it done in a year. Creating, writing, recreating, waiting, editing, getting feedback, editing, and reediting are lengthy processes. Add to that time spent composing query letters and waiting for a response. And you can’t stop there. Even when one piece/novel is complete write another. Writing is a process and a journey. It takes monumental effort, but to the writer, it is joy.
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