Skip to main content

7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Liam Walsh

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Liam Walsh, author of FISH) 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.

Liam Francis Walsh is a cartoonist, writer, and illustrator, originally from northern Wisconsin. He grew up on a dairy farm with lots of siblings and books and a pet crow. His award winning cartoons appear regularly in The New Yorker, and his first book, FISH, a wordless picture book about words, was published on May 31, 2016. He lives in the Italian region of Switzerland.

Fish-book-cover
Liam-Walsh-author-writer

1. Hard work trumps talent. There are millions of gifted people watching TV or endlessly scrolling Facebook right now. If you’re working, you already have a leg up on them. And don’t use lack of inspiration as an excuse for not working. Inspiration is like gelato: it’s a wonderful treat, but you can’t live on it. Putting in uninterrupted hours working, every day, is meat and potatoes.

(Without this, you'll never succeed as a writer.)

2. Your project should be something you’ll be excited to get out of bed for every morning. Make something that thrills you. When you get an idea that excites you, don’t rush off and tell somebody about it, keep it to yourself. Not because you’re paranoid somebody will steal it, but because they won’t see it in all its glory and richness the way you do. To them it will just be words; they won’t get it. You’ll start to question if it is a good idea after all. Keep your amazing idea to yourself. Enjoy it. Feed it. Get to work on it. And don’t revise until you’re done. It’s too easy to keep revising and revising and never finish. Your goal should to finish something imperfect. Then go back and make it perfect.

3. Set short term goals. For me it was submitting ten cartoons every week to The New Yorker. If I could do that, I had met my goal. The mountaintop is so far off that you might want to give up and turn back, but you can at least push on to the next cairn.

Image placeholder title

Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton's guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.

4. Ideas are everywhere. Multitasking is their enemy. Go for a walk without anything to listen to. Let your mind wander. Give yourself time to be bored, to daydream. Always carry your pocket notebook and pen.

5. Education doesn’t end when you graduate. When I decided to be a New Yorker cartoonist, I read absolutely everything I could find about the history and culture of the magazine, I read the cartoon collections over and over, everything. Same thing when I decided to write a kids book. If you need some inspiration, go to the library, go online—seek it out. I look at other people’s artwork all the time. I read all the time, watch movies, observe, study.

6. Don’t wait to start. You may feel you’re not ready yet, and maybe you’re not, but the experience will be invaluable. Your first effort may be garbage, but if your second is great, it will be because of what you learned from the first. I submitted cartoons to The New Yorker for five years before I sold one. Looking back at my first year, my work hardly qualifies as cartoons, but they were the first rungs on the ladder. Don’t wait. When opportunity knocks, be ready. After I’d been cartooning for a few years I got an email from an agent, asking if I was interested in doing picture books. I was able to send him the one I’d just written for my nephew. After revisions, we sold it in a six-house auction.

(Why writers must make themselves easy to contact.)

7. When you work with agents and editors, be humble, be pleasant to work with. You may not always agree with them, but you all have the same goal—to make the book better. Be open to suggestions and changes every step of the way, even if it means a lot more work for you. More work? Great! Remember, just a couple years ago this was your biggest dream.

------------------

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

5 Tips for Keeping Your Writing Rolling

5 Tips for Keeping Your Writing Rolling

The occasional bump in the writing process is normal, but it can be difficult to work through. Here, author Genevieve Essig shares five ways to keep your writing rolling.

From Script

How to Write from a Place of Truth and Desire and Bending the Rules in Screenwriting (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with screenwriter Steven Knight (Spencer), Mike Mills (C'mon C'mon), and David Mitchell (Matrix Resurrection). Plus, how to utilize your vulnerability in your writing and different perspectives on screenwriting structure.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Forgetting To Read

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Forgetting To Read

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so this series helps identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's mistake is forgetting to read.

Tapping Your Memories for Emotional Truths on the Page

Tapping Your Memories for Emotional Truths on the Page

Sharing even a fraction of our feelings with our characters will help our stories feel more authentic. Here, Kris Spisak explains how to tap into our memories to tell emotional truths on the page.

Poetic Forms

Trinet: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the trinet, a seven-line form based on word count.

Tammye Huf: On Real Love That Sparked Inspiration

Tammye Huf: On Real Love That Sparked Inspiration

Debut novelist Tammye Huf discusses how her own familial love story inspired her historical fiction novel, A More Perfect Union.

Announcing the Second Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Announcing the Second Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the second annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards!

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Going Rogue

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Going Rogue

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character go rogue.

How to Love Writing a Book

How to Love Writing a Book

When you’re in the weeds of the writing process, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started in the first place. Here, author Radhika Sanghani shares her tips on how to love the process of writing your book.