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7 Things I've Learned so Far, by Adam Blockton

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Adam Blockton, co-author of TIME SAILORS OF PIZZOLUNGO) 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.

Adam Blockton and Scott Abrams, co-authors of TIME SAILORS OF PIZZOLUNGO (Nov. 2014, Scott Abrams), are childhood friends from Larchmont, New York. They first collaborated artistically as guitarist and drummer in a 7th grade rock band. Scott soon realized he had no musical talent and moved on, but years later they reunited to draft the script for a feature film which was optioned by a Spanish production company. Today Adam writes, produces and stars in an assortment of mainstream and independent comedy projects ranging from the Cartoon Network’s ‘Adult Swim’ to ‘NBC’. He’s also a professional songwriter, producing music for artists, television and film. Scott is a bit of a globetrotter. He’s navigated his way around the world, working, studying and trekking through some 65 diverse countries. Travel is a storyteller’s best friend and, to be sure, he’s picked up and written about an incredible array of stories along the way.

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1. In order to finish your book, you must START your book. Sounds obvious I know, but after fleshing out, prepping and outlining, it’s just you and your laptop, and it can be very daunting to strike that first key. I can’t tell you how many times (myself included) I’ve talked to people with great story ideas, or the seeds of great ideas, who have started researching and preparing for the long haul (in one case even going so far as quitting their job) only to decide, when it came time to begin, not to go through with it. There are always a million reasons NOT to start your book. “I don’t have the time”, “Is my idea really good enough to become a book?” Well, the only absolute certainty is that you will never know, because you will never finish your book unless you start it.

(Why writers must make themselves easy to contact.)

2. A First draft is just that. When writing your masterpiece, you will undoubtedly want to make it as perfect as possible. This is a good thing, and after a few drafts you can really start dotting those t’s and crossing those i’s. But a first draft is not for perfecting. Don’t be afraid to go long, to misspell, to misuse famous phrases (see above), to be sloppy. This is when you should throw everything at the wall. Try every idea you’ve had, and see what sticks. If you’re too precious with your first draft, by your final draft there may be very little left to be precious about.

3. Criticism is crucial. Books, or any creative endeavor for that matter, are seldom completed in a vacuum. It’s very important to seek outside input. They say you are your own worst critic, but you are also your greatest champion, so it can sometimes be difficult to hear anything less than flattering about your work. But, as it turns out, constructive criticism can be one of the strongest weapons in a writer’s arsenal. As the writer, you know exactly what your characters’ intentions are, which direction the plot is moving in and the path to your characters’ redemption and conclusion. But other people may not see it as clearly, or at all. This is where it’s of utmost importance to step back and try to look at your work objectively. If someone critiques your work constructively, even harshly, you won’t turn to dust. And your book may just be the better for it. Give it to everyone you know. The more the merrier. And if you’re afraid your friends’ critiques might be too sugarcoated to be useful and have a couple of bucks to spare, get a professional critique. They are affordable and will pay dividends. And if you’re too sensitive to take honest criticism or show your work to anyone else for fear of rejection, you shouldn’t be writing a book in the first place. You should be keeping a diary.

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4. Make sure your voice is heard. Writers are sensitive. Let’s not pretend we’re not. We want to bury our heads under a pillow when someone is reviewing our work. It would be so much easier if they were reviewing your favorite author, wouldn’t it?! But YOU decided to write this story for a reason. YOU had something to say. Something that YOU believe needs to be heard. Don’t let people hear it in someone else’s voice. Read your favorite writers, don’t write your favorite writers.

5. Have fun. Sometimes we get so caught up in the possibilities of what can happen once the book is finished (your big break! Book sales! Awards!) we forget why we’re doing this in the first place. If you’re writing a book, I have to believe that you love to write, you live to write. I know I do. Yes it can get frustrating when you get stuck or blocked, but let’s be honest, is there any better feeling in the world than getting UN-stuck or UN-blocked?! Writing is a joy. It’s a love. Enjoy the process. Not many people get to do what they love. Enjoy it. All of it.

6. Technology can be a writer’s best friend. It should be noted my co-author lives in Budapest and I live in New York and we completed this book almost entirely through Facetime chats and emails. Collaboration is no longer dependent on geography.

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

7. Promotion can be just as important as creation. From a first time writer to a famous author, one of the things we all have in common is that we want the world to read our books! Famous authors don’t have to worry so much about the promotion of their work once it’s finished. They have agents, publicists and publishers for that. For first time writers, self-promotion is everything. This can sometimes be tricky. With most writers, and other creative types, our left-brain doesn’t always listen to our right. Fortunately, for me, my co-author is cerebrally ambidextrous in all things creative and business oriented. If it weren’t for him you would not be reading this now. He worked tirelessly getting the attention of bloggers, publishers, agents, rodeo workers, waiters and dentists, anyone and everyone who might know someone who knows someone. And he taught me to do the same. And he taught me a very valuable lesson. (Lesson number 7 as it were) No one will buy your work if they can’t find your work.

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