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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Rachel Dunne

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Rachel Dunne, author of IN THE SHADOW OF THE GODS) 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.

Rachel Dunne is the author of a new dark fantasy series beginning with IN THE SHADOW OF THE GODS (June 2016, Harper Voyager), which was a semi-finalist for the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Rachel lives in the Midwest with her great beast of a dog, Goliath. Due to Wisconsin’s cold weather, she’s developed a great fondness for indoor activities like reading and gaming. Follow her on Twitter.


1. Set goals every day. I have a daily word count goal, one that’s reasonable and fairly easy to achieve, and will result in a complete draft in time to meet my book deadlines. Occasionally, the goal is different—answer these interview questions, finish this guest post, edit X number of pages—but it’s always something I know I can do with a little effort, and that’s the key. A goal that takes some work but is fairly easy means that every day, when I hit that goal, I get a huge confidence boost—which most writers probably need day to day.

2. Hold yourself accountable. Most days I can hit my goal after a little feet-dragging, but some days, writing just comes harder. If I don’t meet my goal, I have to justify that to myself—I force myself to write out my excuse. The more pathetic it is (“saw adorable video of lazy wolf who couldn’t howl right and I couldn’t stop watching it”), the guiltier I feel—and the guiltier I feel, the harder I try the next day to make up for that failure.

3. Know when to breathe. It’s also important to cut yourself some slack. If I had an exhausting day at work and just can’t get my head in the game, I’ll write it off as a mental health day and let myself not do my daily writing. Same with having a social life—if visiting family or spending time with friends gets in the way of my daily writing time, that’s okay. It’s important to understand that writers aren’t robots.

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4. Don’t quit your day job. The ultimate dream for most writers is to make a living off their writing, to sit at home all day and write your little heart out. That dream has always been at the back of my mind, but it’s more like a very long-term goal, and I treat it that way. I’m not desperate to quit my job and hole up in my office, typing my fingers down to stubs—so why rush that? I’ve found a good balance between my work, my writing, and my personal life, so I don’t plan to upset that any time soon. Plus, if I’m ever going to become a full-time writer, it has to be meticulously planned out—I need to make sure I won’t end up defaulting on my mortgage or running out of dog food. If writing had been my sole source of income this last year, I would have already blown through my advance just to get by, and that’s a recipe for disaster. I’m going to stay at my day job until I can realistically reach that writing dream. And even then, I’ll probably stay at my job for a while after that.

5. DO NOT ENTER. Stay off of Amazon and Goodreads. Seriously. It’s so easy to get sucked into obsessively checking rankings and ratings and reviews, and that’s not a healthy place to be for an author just starting out. And speaking from personal experience, it’s insanely hard to stop the obsessive checking once you’ve started it.

6. Don’t be afraid to get excited about the next project. I’d just finished the first draft of my sequel to IN THE SHADOW OF THE GODS when I got the idea for a completely different kind of story, and the idea just stuck in my brain. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and every time I tried to edit my second book, I got distracted by this new story idea. When I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to get anything else done, I let myself focus on the new story. I let myself be excited about it, and passionate about it. I thought through the plot and the characters, debated the name for the antagonistic force, wrote out a few scenes, got a nearly-complete rough outline…and then I stopped. That was enough. The idea was no longer crowding everything else out of my head, and I had enough of it written down that I can go back to it after I’ve finished the trilogy. The idea is still very much in my mind, and I’m ridiculously excited to be able to work on it soon, but I can focus on other things now that the immediate excitement is out of my system.

7. Your editor is probably right. Initially, I was pretty resistant to some of the bigger changes my editor suggested. One change particularly would totally alter the tone of the book, and I was extremely confident that the tone didn’t need any tweaking, thank you very much. I started writing through the suggested change, just to prove to her how much it wouldn’t work…and quickly realized she was 100 percent right. I was suddenly fully on board, and the change has made the book so much better. She doesn’t have a perfect track record, and I still stand my ground on a few things, but she’s got great judgement, and I’ll at minimum give serious thought to any of her suggestions.


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