7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Traci Borum

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 Traci Borum. Traci Borum teaches Creative Writing at the college level. She's written for Today's Christian Woman magazine, as well as the New Texas Journal.
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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 Traci Borum) 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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Traci Borum teaches Creative Writing at
the college level. She's written for
Today's
Christian Woman magazine, as well as the
New Texas Journal. Currently, she's working
on a women's fiction series and
also runs a writing blog.

1. Never give up. Rejection is gut-wrenching—we all know that. The odds against unpublished authors are staggering. I read somewhere that literary agents can receive upwards of 400 query letters per week. Then why even try? Because the odds decrease to 0% if you don’t. If I don’t submit query letters, it’s a guarantee: I have zero chance of getting published. So, be tenacious. Let nothing stop you. Keep writing, and put yourself out there.

2. Know Your Weaknesses. Even best-selling authors have trouble with verb tenses or wordy prose. In order to improve as writers, it’s a must that we learn to recognize our individual weaknesses. Years ago, my creative writing teacher took the time to circle all the passive verbs in my story. Until that moment, I had no idea that passive voice was a weakness of mine. But when I recognized it, the light bulb came on, and I set my mind to correcting that weakness. Sure, I still gravitate toward too much passive voice. But now, I can recognize it and correct it.

3. "Just Do It." That classic phrase from 80s Nike commercials has been turned into an eye-rolling cliche. But it so perfectly describes the self-disciplined mentality writers must have. No excuses; just do it. Jack London once said: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." I’ve found three particular "clubs" that help me: 1) set specific writing goals and stick to them; 2) browse over yesterday’s work to get re-inspired; 3) give myself a reward as incentive. Whatever it takes. Just do it.

4. Don’t be a one-hit wonder. For me, a specific sort of panic sets in each time I finish a novel. It's the irrational feeling that I'll never write another book again. One powerful antidote to counteract that sort of panic is to have an ongoing brainstorming "file"—a rich reserve of ideas, plots, characters. Whether kept on your hard drive or in a notebook, every writer should have one. That way, the well won't ever run dry.

5. Realize that not everyone will "get it"—and that’s OK. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that only a select few people seem to “get” my passion for writing. Everyone else‘s eyes seem to glaze over with disinterest. Or, worse, they look upon me with judgment, and wonder why I would devote so many hours to a silly hobby. But I’ve learned to shrug my shoulders and not allow them to bring me down. In fact, quite the opposite. I press on in spite of them. Many times, their lack of support has given me just the incentive I needed to finish a novel, or to get more queries out there. And, thankfully, I have plenty of people in my life who do “get it.” And they’re all the support system I need.

6. "A sentence must earn the right to live." That quote came from an editor (unknown) who lectured at a writers’ conference I attended years ago. It’s one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever heard.

7. If you’re bored, the reader will be, too. Sometimes when I’m writing a scene, I try too hard. I force a scene to work when I know it won‘t. For example, in my last novel, I wanted something important to occur at a birthday party. It was a child's party, and I had the cake, the party games, even a clown. But I was bored stiff as I wrote it. There was no spark, no energy. So, I listened to my "inner editor" and kept working on it until it was no longer boring. Mission accomplished!

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