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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Valerie Geary

This is a new 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 Valerie Geary. Valerie Geary is a fiction writer and helms the blog, Something to Write About.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Valerie Geary) 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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Valerie Geary is a fiction writer and
helms the blog, Something to Write About.

1. Read widely. Read everything. Fiction and nonfiction. Short stories, novellas, and classics. Read in a style or genre different from your own. Read an author you’ve avoided because he/she is too popular. Read an author whose name is so obscure you probably won’t remember it later. And go deeper than simply reading: Learn something from each piece. You will come out on the other side a much stronger writer. I know I have.

2. Excuses are a waste of time and creativity. If you want to write ... Write. There is no better point in your life than now. There is no better place in the world than here. The kids will never stop needing things from you. The bills will not stop showing up in your mailbox. The kitchen will just be dirty again tomorrow. Stop. Breathe. Write.

3. Take long walks. Not only is it good for the body, it’s good for the mind. I have found that some of my most exciting story ideas and biggest writing revelations have come when my muscles are moving, my blood is pumping and I’m breathing fresh air. Plus it keeps my dog happy. And a happy dog = hours of uninterrupted writing time.

4. Always carry a piece of paper and a pen. Always. My Muse comes around at the most inconvenient times. Never when I’m working at my desk. It can be very disheartening to watch brilliance disappear into the cracks of your brain.

5. If you can’t write a concise synopsis, your novel’s not ready. Once upon a time I wrote a novel. I tried writing a synopsis to send along with my query letters, but I had a difficult time with it and I never finished. At first, I thought: Who cares? What’s so important about a synopsis anyway? It’s the story that counts. So I queried only agents who didn’t require a synopsis. Know what happened? Nothing. Form rejections. It seems so obvious to me now, but what I didn’t understand back then was that the synopsis is the story. If you are having trouble writing a synopsis, step back and take another look at the story you’re trying to tell. Are there pieces missing? Did you start it in the right place? Is your arc arched enough? Is your ending satisfying? When the story is ready, writing the synopsis should be easy-breezy-lemon-peezy.

6. Writing is art; publishing is business. When I write, I write first for myself. I experiment and try to keep my creative mind open to extraordinary surprises. But when I prepare to send a piece out for publication, I have to remember that there are other people involved now. Businesses that want to buy, sell, and make a profit from my words. Readers who want to understand and connect with my stories. Reviewers who will offer their opinions whether or not I ask them to. If you are not able, or willing, to allow other people into your writing life don’t publish. But if you are ready, remember to conduct yourself with unflinching professionalism especially in public forums.

7. Remember to pause and catch your breath in the shade. Don’t feel guilty about taking a break. Writing is hard work. I despise the adage: “Write every day”. This is a good way exhaust both your energy and your creativity. I am not, however, advocating that you write only when you feel like it, because nothing would ever get done. Make a schedule. Stick to it for several months, a year even. Then take a vacation. Pull back from the computer for a day, a week, a month. Go camping. Travel. Read. Hang out with friends. Enjoy life for a while. You will be properly rested and ready to take on the world.

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