7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Olivia Sharpnack (better known as Lydia Sharp)

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 Lydia Sharp. Lydia Sharp is an author of science fiction, fantasy, women's fiction, and young adult romance. Her short story, "The Keeper of Secrets," is featured in the anthology Shadows & Light: Tales of Lost Kingdoms (Pill Hill Press, 2009).
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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 Lydia Sharp, author of SHADOWS & LIGHT: TALES OF LOST KINGDOMS) 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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Lydia Sharp is an author of science fiction, fantasy, women's fiction, and young adult
romance. Her short story, "The Keeper of Secrets," is featured in the anthology

Shadows & Light:Tales of Lost Kingdoms (Pill Hill Press, 2009).
She co-blogs with her husband, Joe Sharp, atThe Sharp Angle

Lydia is also a featured member of the Writer's Digest Community
and a semi-annual contributor to Writer Unboxed.

1. It's both what you know and who you know. Those two go hand in hand. You can learn a lot from the "nobodies" and "somebodies" in this business, and both can provide opportunities. Pay attention to the little cracks that might be the sign of an open door.

2. Bestselling authors are people, too. Everyone started small, unpublished, and struggled in some way to achieve their current success. Deep down, all writers like to be recognized for a job well done, even in a small way. Whenever I post a review on The Book Book, I contact the author and let them know about it. So far, I've never received an unfavorable response, and it's a simple way to make a connection with someone already established in the business.

3. It's easier to make enemies than friends. This is especially true online, where an innocent question or statement can be perceived as a threat or an insult. As writers, we should know better than to use words carelessly. Not saying I'm perfect because, yes, I've put my foot in my mouth more times than I care to relate, and have deleted more posts and comments than I care to admit, but I've also learned from my mistakes. Before you hit that final "submit" make double and triple sure the words on your screen are the words you really want the public to see. And if you're not sure what the public is seeing, Google yourself. The results might surprise you.

4. Find a platform that works for you and stick with it. For me, it's blogging. I have not signed up for Twitter, Facebook, and whatever else is out there for fear it will take up all my free writing time. With a blog, I'm able to focus on what I feel is important: writing, and everything that goes along with that. It's also an effective way to stay in touch with others in the business and promote my work. For someone else, blogging may not be the best choice, but give it at least six months of dedicated effort before you nix it. Most blogs fail because people got bored with it, didn't realize how much work is truly involved, or felt they should have had a bigger response from readers. No matter what platform you choose, it's going to take time to establish.

5. A pen name does not equal a fake persona. My reasons for using a pen name never included "because I don't want people to know who I am." To me, that's just silly. People are going to figure you out sooner or later. I chose a pen name that is similar to my real name, but easier to say and remember, for the sake of marketability. Fiction is funny like that. And now that I'm venturing into nonfiction, my real name is going to get out there, too, which is fine. They're both me.

6. Enter as many contests as possible. First off, there's no harm in entering. If you don't enter, you're sure to lose, but if you do enter, there's a chance you'll win. Second, don't take yourself too seriously with these, especially if there is no prize for winning other than recognition. I've seen people get bent out of shape over not placing in a "for fun" contest, and honestly, I'm embarrassed for them (someone has to be). Third, contests are an excellent way to discipline your writing. Most of the time you're given a prompt of some sort or a theme that you must stick to, and there is always a deadline. If you've never done this before, you might be surprised how creative you can get when you force it. Last of all, you never know where it might lead you. My first published short story had originally been written for a contest. Less than a year later, the story was in print and I had a check in my hand.

7. Don't confine yourself to a single type of writing. Keep stretching and trying new things. My first love is novels, and my favorite thing to write is science fiction. If you'd told me two years ago that my first publication would be a fantasy short story, I would have looked at you like you'd sprouted another head. And if you'd told me a year ago that I'd be writing how-to articles and essays now in addition to fiction, I would have said, "Um … why?" And don't even get me started on how odd it is that I also write contemporary women's fiction, and just finished my first YA romance novel. But this is something I've learned and now embrace: whenever you try something new, or focus on a different technique, you improve overall. Growth is good. The only alternative is to be static or shrink back. Who wants that?

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