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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Dylan Landis

2. Be a dedicated reader for at least two people. Funnel some generous literary karma into the writing community by offering to be a reader, even if you don't have a dream reader of your own. (Such relationships are often not mutual, anyway.) Never doubt that in your writing life, what goes around, comes around. Besides, critiquing the work of another writer hones the ability to self-critique. I'm fortunate enough to trade "Monday pages" with a stellar writer named Heather Sellers. It’s a work relationship so intense I call her my "writing wife," but I also read frequently for another excellent writer who doesn't read for me. GIVEAWAY: Dylan is excited to give away a free copy of her 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: karinfuller won.)

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Dylan Landis, author of RAINEY ROYAL) 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: Dylan is excited to give away a free copy of her 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: karinfuller won.)

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Dylan Landis is the author of a novel, RAINEY ROYAL (Sept. 2014 Soho), which
was a New York Times Editors' Choice; as well as a collection of linked stories,
Normal People Don't Live Like This. She received a 2010 National Endowment
for the Arts Fellowship in fiction, and had a story selected for The O. Henry
Prize Stories 2014. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York
Times, Tin House, Bomb and House Beautiful. Find her on Twitter.

1. Start a file called 100 Rejections. Chris Offutt gave this advice from at the Wesleyan Writers' Conference, back when I'd published exactly nothing, and it was so encouraging. He said: Make it your goal to collect 100 rejections, and you'll feel like you're doing your job as a writer with each submission, rather than crashing emotionally over each rejection. I took heart from this fact: Offutt nearly filled his own file before getting his first story in print. When I got my first acceptance, I tucked it into the Rejections file to leaven it. And then I just stopped counting, and kept submitting.

2. Be a dedicated reader for at least two people. Funnel some generous literary karma into the writing community by offering to be a reader, even if you don't have a dream reader of your own. (Such relationships are often not mutual, anyway.) Never doubt that in your writing life, what goes around, comes around. Besides, critiquing the work of another writer hones the ability to self-critique. I'm fortunate enough to trade "Monday pages" with a stellar writer named Heather Sellers. It’s a work relationship so intense I call her my "writing wife," but I also read frequently for another excellent writer who doesn't read for me.

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3. Pay yourself first. That's how financial gurus put it, but here the currency is time. I learned the painful way to say no sometimes when friends invite me out. If you don't pay yourself first, you'll fall mortally out of touch with your work. Another way to pay yourself first is to turn off the TV. While some writers may be watching (admittedly excellent) television, you'll be getting your novel written.

4. Don't share work-in-progress with non-writers. Indeed, don't even discuss it. Think of work-in-progress as an egg around which the shell has not yet hardened. I told my wonderful husband, a newspaper editor, my idea for a scene I wanted to write. "It sounds like a cliché to me," he said. I winced—but as an editor on a daily deadline, his job is to derail weak ideas before they waste anyone's time. As a fiction writer, mine is to trust my ideas, follow them around dark corners and see what turns up. Thankfully, I wrote my scene. The story won a prize that took me to Russia, ran in a top literary magazine, and was published in my first book.

5. Insomnia is a friend. So is commuting. Ditto long waits at the dentist's office. At some point in mid-life I learned what it meant to be up much of the night, unable to sleep. So I got up and wrote, enfolded by silence. I thought, This time is gift-wrapped just for you. Other little packages of time for writing, and reading, are everywhere. My teacher, Jim Krusoe, turns the radio off during his driving time in Los Angeles and thinks hard about his novel in progress. And my husband carries poetry specifically to read on the New York City subway.

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6. When you think you're done, read the work aloud. Yes, the entire book. Slowly and with beats and expression. Listen for every flat note, every jutting word. (My writer-friend Michelle Brafman read parts of my second book to me over the phone.) Your ear will pick up problems in language that your eye skims past: it's just the way we're made. I failed to do this with parts of my first book, Normal People Don't Live Like This, and the copy I read aloud from is full of crossed-out words, lines and even paragraphs. So I read my second book, Rainey Royal, aloud twice (with Brafman's help) before submitting it for publication. If this sounds extreme, know that some authors read aloud first as they write, and then again at the end.

7. Free yourself from ritual. If it's just a matter of a quick meditation, that can be freeing—but take notice if you truly can't write unless you light a particular jasmine candle, or hold your lucky pen from Paris, or swim a mile. At that point, your rituals may be running you. From there it's not so far a jump to "I can only write in perfect silence" or "I can only write if the whole house is neat." Time is a gift. Try not to throttle it with conditions.

GIVEAWAY: Dylan is excited to give away a free copy of her 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: karinfuller won.)

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