7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Chris Howard

1. Write the book you want to read but can’t seem to find. Of course, by doing this, you run the risk of writing a book that no one but you wants to read! But what the hell, right?!? There’s no guarantee that anyone else will want to read your story anyway! And seeing as you’ll be re-reading it and revising it for months, maybe years, you probably ought to like it to begin with, if only for your mental health! I also like to think that this technique will help make your novel as unique and strange, and hopefully as interesting, as you are. GIVEAWAY: Chris is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: ABLyttle won.)
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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 Chris Howard, author of ROOTLESS) 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.

GIVEAWAY: Chris is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: ABLyttle won.)

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Chris Howard was born not far from London but currently lives in
Denver, Colo. Before he wrote stories, he worked for the National
Park Service, and spent seven years leading wilderness adventure
trips for teenagers. He was awarded a Publishers Weekly “Flying
Start” in Fall 2012, following the release of his debut novel, ROOTLESS
(Scholastic Press, Nov. 2012), and he's currently working on the
next book in this gritty sci-fi series that's recommended for both
teens and adults. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.
ROOTLESS is about a brave 17-year-old on a futuristic earth who
sets off across a wasteland in search of the last remaining real
trees on the planet.

1. Write the book you want to read but can’t seem to find.

Of course, by doing this, you run the risk of writing a book that no one but you wants to read! But what the hell, right?!? There’s no guarantee that anyone else will want to read your story anyway! And seeing as you’ll be re-reading it and revising it for months, maybe years, you probably ought to like it to begin with, if only for your mental health! I also like to think that this technique will help make your novel as unique and strange, and hopefully as interesting, as you are. It’ll be something that’s not just a “cool version of something people have already read”. And I think there’s a good chance people will connect with your story if it's an original one. And if they don’t?! Hey – at least you think it’s brilliant!

2. Find the readers you trust to help you edit.

There might be a dozen of them, or there might be two of them, but find people you trust to give an honest and worthwhile opinion. They don’t have to solve problems in your story, but they have to identify when problems are present. A simple “this bit’s boring” or “I don’t get this part” or “something’s missing” is all you need – then it’s your job to come up with the solutions! However, I’ve found it best to not get too many people’s feedback – it’ll freeze you from action … this writing stuff is subjective and too many opinions can just cancel each other out.

(Read a column on "The Value of Beta Readers" -- and also check out "Seek Quality, Not Quantity, in Peer Reviews.")

3. Take time off from writing.

Go for a long walk with no way to write anything down, and then see what your mind comes up with. Take a bike ride. Go skiing. Watch movies all day. Take a trip. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your story is NOT work on it or stare at it. Let your subconscious mind catch up – or get ahead of you! I believe in writing a lot, but not writing every day. Because sometimes, just thinking is what you need. Be patient, and let the words come when you sit down at the desk again.

4. Keep thinking about new stories.

Every time I’m working on a story, I’m consumed by it. I love it. To be perfectly honest, I probably think it’s brilliant and believe that others will too! But I’m in this for the long haul – I want to keep writing stories, and so it’s good to always keep your mind open to what might be that next story. You never know when inspiration might strike, so stay open to it. And who knows which story will be the one that you remember most at the end of your whole writing journey?

(Writing a novel? Check out our growing list of fiction agents.)

5. Realize you can only control so much.

Getting published was one of the coolest things that’s happened to me. Finding an awesome agent, and then getting a great editor who convinced people to pay me for my work? Awesome feeling, there’s no doubt. But at the end of the day, after that, there’s so much that can happen, or not happen, or maybe still might happen, or you wish hadn’t happened… and a lot of it is totally OUT OF YOUR CONTROL. You gotta embrace that, however hard it is to accept. You do your best to make your story the best it can be, to do justice by the characters and the world you create, but at the end of the day, published or not, the tides might be with you a lot, a little, or not even at all. If in doubt, remember #4 and “Keep Thinking About New Stories”!

6. Have fun – even with the hard stuff!

This ties in to the previous thought… Sometimes things get tough or go wrong or don’t happen and it’s out of your hands. This can be when you’re brainstorming, writing, revising, or with the whole business of finding an agent, selling a manuscript to a publisher, or selling books to readers. BUT, and this is huge, whether you’re writing full-time or in every moment of your spare time, remember that this should be hard, but you should also be having some fun! I’ve learned to treat each challenge as an obstacle on my quest as a writer, and to be grateful for everything I have going on.

(Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?)

7. This is not a “normal” job. This is a dream!

It helps me to think of writing as “work”, because I’m going to put every bit of energy and all the time in the world into it. But it’s far from a normal job (if there is such a thing). It’s not like you show up, do your thing, and then leave at the end of the day. This is one of those jobs where you never really stop working, in the sense that your brain can always “go there” and think about your story or your prose. It’s the type of occupation that you dream about at night, where you wake up and hop out of bed so you can write down new ideas, where you can’t stop to sleep or eat because the inspiration has you soaring. I’ve learned it pays to remember that yes – this is a job, and it’s very hard work, but I’m living a dream when I’m writing, and too few people get to say that about what they spend the bulk of their time doing.

GIVEAWAY: Chris is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: ABLyttle won.)

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Do you have an idea for a great novel? Are you at a loss
for where to start? Look no further.
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