7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Francesca Zappia

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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 Francesca Zappia, author of MADE YOU UP) 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.

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Column by Francesca Zappia, author of MADE YOU UP
(May 2015, Greenwillow Books). Francesca spends her days
working in computer support and her nights writing stories.
You can also find her reading, drawing, watching anime, or
playing way too much Pokémon. You can find her on Twitter,
Tumblr, Instagram, and on her website.

1. Slow down. I mean this in more ways than one. The first way—publishing is a slow business. Anyone will tell you this, and I knew it when I got into it, but there’s a difference between knowing it and accepting it. The sooner I accepted it, the happier I was. I had to learn to take it easy and appreciate the downtime, because when the excitement hits, it hits hard.

The second way is a more small-scale. I had to slow down a lot of the things I did. Drafting. Editing. Speaking in front of groups of people. Signing books, even. (Apparently I sign books too fast. Before Made You Up was released, I didn’t even know you could sign books too fast.)

2. Breathe. People forget how great breathing is. Stuck on an idea? Breathe. Edits just came back and the main character sounds all wrong? Breathe. Social media feeling a little claustrophobic? Breathe.

We forget to breathe. I forgot to breathe.

3. It’s kind of a competition. Some people will tell you it is, some will tell you it isn’t. Personally, I’ve found it’s somewhere in between. It is a competition, but for me, it’s a competition only with myself. Motivating myself to write has always been easy, but the social side of publishing—being online, hearing about others’ successes and failures, hearing snippets of what people think of my work, doing school visits, doing interviews, putting myself out there for publicity—has not. It’s a constant struggle to reply to one more email, one more tweet, one more comment. I have to psych myself up before I even accept an invitation to an event and school visit, so let’s not even talk about actually going to them. Every day I remind myself not to look at reviews, because what I find may not be the best thing for me to read, whether or not it’s good or bad. I’m in a competition with myself to succeed as an author, and I plan to win.

 4. Don’t get complacent. It’s good to like the work you’ve done, but I never want to get to a place where I say, “Okay, that’s enough. I don’t need to learn any more. I don’t need to experiment with plot, characters, or style. What I’m doing now works well enough.” Well enough is not my endgame. After meeting and talking to fans of Made You Up, I’ve realized that I don’t want to stagnate—I want to keep delivering newer, better stories for them. I want to take them places they’ve never been, and that’s not going to happen if I stay at the same level.

 5. You’re allowed to have fun. I think I actually knew this before, but I didn’t realize how many people don’t have fun until after I was published. And I don’t mean have fun with your life, I mean have fun with your writing. That’s the great thing about being a creator: you can do whatever you want! With your plot, your characters, your setting. You have a million cans of paint in a room with white walls. MAKE SOMETHING COOL.

 6. Keep your day job. At least until the responsibilities of being a published author take up too much time. Or unless you hate your day job, and it’s economically feasible for you to quit. For me, I need the distraction of doing something during the day to give me the fuel I need for writing at night. That used to be school, but since I’ve graduated, my day job has done the trick nicely. This also helps with numbers 1 and 2—when I’m at my job, I don’t worry about my writing life. It’s a very nice reprieve.

7. Writing isn’t everything. There’s a lot more to life than what you’re working on, and how well you books are doing. When you spend most of your time immersed in the online publishing world, it’s easy to forget that and lose perspective. You are more than your work. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old, and every year it took over a little bit more of my life. Now that it’s something I do professionally, I have to be very careful that I don’t lose sight of the big picture.

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