7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Charlotte Huang

Charlotte Huang, author of FOR THE RECORD, shares the top 7 lessons she's learned about being a writer.
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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 Charlotte Huang, author of FOR THE RECORD) 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.

Charlotte Huang is a graduate of Smith College and received an MBA from Columbia Business School, which is clearly something every aspiring writer should do. When not glued to her computer, she cheers her two sons on at sporting events and sometimes manages to stay up late enough to check out bands with her music agent husband. Charlotte lives in Los Angeles and is the author of FOR THE RECORD (Delacorte, 2015) and GOING GEEK (Delacorte, September 2016). You can find her online on Twitter.

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1. Say yes. Many writers talk about the importance of prioritizing your writing time--and I certainly don’t disagree. After all, how else are the words going to get on paper if your butt’s not in the chair? Except, I’ve started to see the value in saying yes to some things even when they’ll take valuable time away from actual writing. Learning and experiencing new things makes us better and more convincing writers, not to mention, gives us fresh material to write about.

(4 Signs of an Unhealthy Agent-Author Relationship.)

2. Accept that each project is different. If you’re a creature of habit like me, you may become attached to the idea that the method that worked for you on one book is going to be your “way.” Now I’m not saying that you start completely from square one each time, but I am encouraging you to avoid stubbornly adhering to something that isn’t working just because it did last time. For example if your last project demanded a precise, beat-by-beat outline, but on this one, that level of detail is making you feel hemmed in, skip it.

3. Finish something. This is the piece of writing advice I most often give to newer writers. I say it for many reasons but the most important one is to show yourself you can do it. It will shift your perspective on what you can accomplish. I promise.

4. Find a community. There are some things about writing and publishing that only other writers can understand. No matter how patient and well-intentioned they are, our family members and friends don’t always understand our particular brand of angst. Even if you don’t live in a place where there’s a large concentration of writers, the online community is thriving. Find some writer friends, save your sanity.

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5. Don’t let setbacks derail you. I know. I can’t claim to be great at it either, but I think it’s an important goal. As my very wise critique partner once said to me, “You can’t expect your creative life just to be an endless series of yeses.” (See #4.) This is undoubtedly true. You never know what other doors a ‘no’ may reveal but if you stop pushing forward, you’ll never find out.

6. Take care of your health. It’s funny to think of writing-related injuries but they do exist! Lots of writers get physical injuries from sitting in one position too long or using an incorrect writing setup. There’s also our mental and emotional health. I like to start my day with a workout which I find helps clear my mind and strengthen my body, offsetting the effects of sitting and staring at a screen for hours at a time. Yes, this is another thing that takes time away from writing but when I don’t do it, I feel the difference.

(What happens when an agent stops returning your phone calls?)

7. Don’t wait for the perfect time and place to write. It doesn’t exist for most of us. Thanks to my kids’ changing schedules, I have to adjust my writing routine every couple of months. It stresses me out but I’ve learned to get comfortable with the idea that my work will have to get done regardless. This may mean squeezing in a half hour of writing in a noisy gym during a lesson, or getting an hour long stretch in a hot car while parked by a soccer field. So if you have a demanding job or busy family life, it’s time to get creative. Just try to see where you might carve out time for your writing. It doesn’t have to be conventional to be effective.

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