7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

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 Sarah Jamila Stevenson. Sarah Jamila Stevenson is a freelance writer, editor, artist and graphic designer. Her first YA novel, The Latte Rebellion (Flux, Jan. 2011) is the story of a moneymaking scheme that spins hilariously—and disastrously—out of control.
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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 Sarah Jamila Stevenson, author of THE LATTE REBELLION) 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.

Sarah 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: Kristan won.)

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Sarah Jamila Stevenson is a freelance writer, editor,
artist and graphic designer, as well as co-founder of
the YA lit and writing blog Finding Wonderland with
author Tanita Davis. Sarah's first young adult novel,
The Latte Rebellion (Flux, Jan. 2011) is the story of a
moneymaking scheme that spins hilariously—and
disastrously—out of control. See the book website here
or Sarah's website here.

1. Every project is different. For each novel-writing project I've embarked on, the creative process has been a little different, and so have the demands of each project—whether that’s full-steam-ahead scribbling or recurring periods of down time. (I really should have known this. It's certainly been true for my visual artwork.) I've learned I have to pay close attention to what each project needs.

2. Getting a book published does not suddenly grant me magical powers I didn't have before. Don't get me wrong. It's a wonderful, amazing experience. But somehow I thought that publishing a book would mean I'd henceforth "know how it's all done." But guess what? I'm still the same person, and there's still a ton of stuff I don't know. Go figure.

3. Printouts are your friend. As someone who does most of my writing on the computer, it's tempting to make excuses for not printing things out: I can read it just fine on the screen; I don't want to kill a tree. But when it comes to revision, there's no better way to get a fresh perspective on your work than to look at a physical copy. Plus you can channel your inner editor and scribble on it as much as you want.

4. There's no substitute for thoughtful critique. Whether it comes from informal beta readers, your writing group, your agent or your editor, having multiple pairs of eyes looking at your work is key—and having clear, useful feedback is invaluable to revision. My writing group has been an incredible source of feedback, ideas, and general reminders to get my head out of my, well, you know.

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5. You do not have to take every suggestion people make about your work. It is a good idea to listen to the feedback of your beta readers or critique group. It is also a good idea to consider that feedback carefully. But you don't have to take every single piece of advice. It's YOUR book. I try my hardest to be a thoughtful consumer of advice and try to be objective about what's going to truly help my project and what might not be quite on the mark. Everybody's got an opinion. Ask yourself: does this piece of feedback match my ultimate goals for this project? Even if I don't like it?

6. Sometimes you have to be kind to yourself, and sometimes you have to crack the whip. This is pretty self-explanatory. When the creative juices aren't flowing, or when I'm low on energy, I spend an awful lot of time nudging, badgering, cajoling, and outright bribing myself to sit there and get things done. That's all well and good, but don't forget that you also need to take a break sometimes. If I've been working solidly on a project for a long while, my brain needs serious down time.

7. You can do it.
There can be an awful lot of insecurity and self-doubt involved in being a writer or an artist. I don't mean to say that those feelings don't matter, or that they're easy to push aside. But it is very much possible to KEEP GOING ANYWAY. It turns out that's what really matters, not those nasty self-doubts.


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