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7 Things I've Learned So Far, by James Lee

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by James Lee, author of TOOTH AND TALON) 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.

James Lee is an author and writer of fiction. His debut book, TOOTH AND TALON (July 2015), is a collection of eleven of his short horror stories. Before becoming a writer, he has worked as a web and print designer, and a desktop publishing specialist. He has a MFA from The New York Academy of Art and a BFA from the College for Creative Studies. James is also an avid photographer and lives in northeastern Pennsylvania.

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1. Keep on Writing

Sounds simple enough. After my book TOOTH AND TALON was published, I had a lot of anxiety about how to best market it. Since my book was self-published, I needed to figure out how to best promote my book. I spent more time researching various marketing techniques than writing. My schedule was all over the place. The time I had allotted for writing became filled with marketing tasks. Ultimately my writing suffered. These days, I set aside only one day out of the week for business tasks.

(Can you pitch a self-published book to an agency? Yes, and here's how.)

2. Manage Your Time Wisely

For many of us who are not able to write full time, making time and utilizing that time is paramount. Since I come from a web developer background, I was familiar with various time management techniques. I use The Pomodoro Technique to help manage my writing time. It keeps me focused, and my pen moving. Before I borrowed this time management technique from my career as a web developer, I was only concerned with a simple daily writing quota. You should find out which works best for you and stick to it.

3. Your Reader Count Counts

The more people that can read your work before you publish anything, the better. I have three or four people that read my work. I wish that I had at least eight. The feedback you get is invaluable in advising you as to what is working and what is not.

4. Remain Humble

I have quite a few years of experience working as a desktop publishing specialist for a major New York magazine and I have a strong graphic design background. With my background and an all too controlling attitude, I decided that I would handle my book’s internal design and cover. Most everything turned out fine. Looking back though, I think I would have been better served if someone without personal attachments to the work could have done a better job. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should.

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5. Ask for Help

Writing can be a very solitary experience. When you’re a solitary person like me you might find it uncomfortable reaching out to others for help. Joining a formal organization, attending an event or local writer’s group, or simply posting questions on a writing forum can all be very helpful. I’ve found that there are plenty of writers with a wealth of experience that are willing to share their thoughts.

6. Avoid Rushing the Editing Process

With a second or third draft complete, it can be easy to get swept up in your own excitement to reach the finish line. Continue to work with a professional editor and allow the work to dictate when it’s ready. Also trust your instincts. If it feels forced, chances are it probably is.

(How to pitch a self-published book to an agent.)

7. Finding a Springboard

I’ve found that keeping a simple journal can make for a great jumping off point to more serious writing. I spend approximately half an hour every evening jotting down my mundane thoughts of the day, which typically flows into a Q and A session of my current writing projects. Finding anything that can help prime you for your next writing session can save time and frustration.

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