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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Helene Wicker

1. Write everything down. I’m in the grocery store, staring vaguely at the produce, when the heavens open up and a great writing idea lands in my brain. I know I should stop and write it down. But isn't that a little weird, to pull out my notebook in the middle of the Safeway? I’ll look like a moody Goth kid scribbling in her diary. Besides, this is such a great idea, there’s no way will I forget it. And then, guess what? I forget it. GIVEAWAY: Helene 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: SammySammo won.)

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Helen Wicker, author of THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI) 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: Helene 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: SammySammo won.)

golem-and-jinni-cover
helene-wecker-author-writer

Helene Wecker grew up in suburban Chicago, and received her Bachelor's in
English from Carleton College in Minnesota. In 2007 she received her Master's
in Fiction from Columbia University. After a dozen years spent bouncing between
both coasts and the Midwest, she's finally putting down roots in the San Francisco
Bay Area, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Helene's first novel,
THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, was published by HarperCollins and named an
Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2013. Find her on Twitter.

1. Write everything down. I’m in the grocery store, staring vaguely at the produce, when the heavens open up and a great writing idea lands in my brain. I know I should stop and write it down. But isn't that a little weird, to pull out my notebook in the middle of the Safeway? I’ll look like a moody Goth kid scribbling in her diary. Besides, this is such a great idea, there’s no way will I forget it. And then, guess what? I forget it.

2. A routine is best, but don’t beat yourself up about it. God knows, it's good to have a routine. But there are times when, for whatever reason, it all falls to pieces. The worst thing to do is to mire yourself in guilt. That just breeds resentment, which pushes the writing further away. Instead I try to mentally tag the place in my life where the writing belongs, and put it back there as soon as I can.

(Learn how to protect yourself when considering a independent editor for your book.)

3. “Touch” your writing every day. This comes courtesy of David Ebershoff, novelist, editor, and teacher extraordinaire. I was near the end of my MFA program, and nervous about leaving my structured student life. How would I concentrate on my book without a workshop to keep me honest? He said, "You have to touch your book every day, even if you aren't writing. Look over the last few pages. Think about the characters. Keep it fresh in your mind." I've tried to follow that ever since.

4. Read as much as you can, as widely as you can, as closely as you can. When I haven’t been reading enough (too busy, a shredded attention span, whatever) my writing suffers, every single time. I try to read books both like and completely unlike whatever I’m working on. If something about the writing irritates me, I try to figure out why, and how I would fix it. If a book sends me into paroxysms of delight, I try to figure out how the author did it, and then file the information away for future use.

5. My gut sends me messages, and I ought to listen to them. For the first few years of writing THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, I had a weird, niggling feeling about the Golem’s character. She was just boring. Too much like a machine. But I kept pushing it aside, telling myself I was being over-critical, when the truth was I just didn’t want to believe it. Finally, three different test readers told me the same thing: We don’t care enough about the Golem. At that point I became so depressed I nearly gave up. I forced myself to think about the problem, and within a week I’d figured out a solution – but it involved starting over from the beginning. If I’d listened to my gut earlier, I might have saved myself a whole lot of pain and anguish.

(How long should you wait before following up with an agent?)

6. Take care of yourself. Confession: I am horrible at this. When my life gets crazy, the first thing I jettison is self-care. Many of us take a grim, perverse pride in running ourselves down, but that isn’t worth much when I’m running on empty, snapping at my loved ones, and unable to concentrate. The trick is learning how to do self-care in bite-sized chunks. I used to think I had to meditate for at least 45 minutes, or it wouldn’t be worth it. Now I set my watch for 15 or 20 minutes tops. Otherwise it just won't happen, and 15 minutes is a lot better than zero.

7. Sometimes it pays to put all your eggs in one basket. There were times – years, even – when writing THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI felt deeply irresponsible. I was freelancing part-time so I could write, and it barely paid my bills. My husband kept a roof over our heads, but my finances were still a major stressor for us both. Two things kept me writing. One, deep down I believed in the book. And two, the only thing that frightened me more than my bank account was the thought of giving up, retreating to an office job, and telling my family and friends I’m sorry, I couldn’t hack it. Maybe it was an unhealthy attitude. (Also, we didn’t have a kid back then. Kids change the equation.) But I know I wouldn’t have been so focused on finishing the book if I hadn’t gotten rid of the safety net.

GIVEAWAY: Helene 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: SammySammo won.)

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