This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Leah Bobet, author of ABOVE) 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: Leah 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:Zephyrsaerie won.)
Leah Bobet drinks tea, wears feathers in her hair, and plants
gardens in alleyways. Her short fiction has appeared in venues
including On Spec, Realms of Fantasy, and multiple Year's Best
anthologies, and her debut novel, ABOVE (starred review in
Publishers Weekly), was published by Arthur A. Levine
Books/Scholastic in April 2012. Find her at leahbobet.com.
1. That process is the most individual thing on earth: All writing advice (including this batch here!) is nothing more than how that particular writer learned to write; how they compensated for the things they weren't so good at in the beginning, and reinforced the things that were always strengths. You're not them: You have your own strengths and weaknesses, and your own brain, so there are no hard-and-fast craft rules, or craft advice that always fits. Just tools, some of which might be useful, and learning to write is really just the process of learning which tools are the ones that fit your hands best.
2. That sometimes when writing advice looks obvious, or stupid, or like it makes no sense, it's because your brain isn't in the place yet where that piece of advice is useful. Write it down in a file. Go back and look at that file every six months or so. One day it'll be the exact thing you needed to hear.
3. To weigh criticism with seriousness and objectivity. Even if you disagree with the critiquer, you have to get that work past the editor; even if you disagree with the editor, you have to get it past the reviewer; even if you disagree with the reviewer, you have to get that past the reader – and it's the reader who we're all ultimately responsible to for putting forward our very best, and the reader who's the most exacting judge.
4. That you don't have to sign any contract that makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable. Usually when a contract's making you uncomfortable, there's a good reason for that, and just like going on another date with someone you're getting that bad feeling about, sticking it out and then cleaning up the mess later is always much more work than just saying thanks, but no thanks. There's always another person to date, and there's always another contract, too.
5. That your work is not yourself. Try it: Push that manuscript against your arm. It's not going in, is it? That's because they're two different things. Things people say about your work are not said about you; things people say about you have nothing to do with your work. Don't let negative reactions break your heart. But more importantly: Don't let the positive ones go to your head.
6. That we don't get to choose how long our learning curves are. It can get frustrating when we feel for ages – years! – that we're shoving our heads up against a glass ceiling, almost there, almost there. But the tricky thing about learning any long-term skill is that we can't see how much we don't know yet, and there's always more. Always. When we get to a point where it feels like outside things – editors, critiquers, the market, etc. – are holding us back from succeeding because we're clearly, obviously ready? It's a good idea to take a breath and consider that it's much more likely that we're not ready yet; that there's some skill we haven't figured out, and we just can't see yet that the skill is even there to be learned – and most importantly, that we'll be able to see it soon. And then to get back to work.
7. To remember that writing, for all that it can be hard, important, serious, picky, detailed, infuriating, is also play. The single most important thing I have ever learned about writing is to treat it as play, and be random and silly and joyous and, well, fun. Because it's when it's fun that it's a positive part of my life; that it's something that fills me up. And it's when it's fun that I get brave with it, or experimental, or sincere – and produce the very best work; the kind I never thought I had in me, and the kind that makes people laugh, or grin, or weep.
GIVEAWAY: Leah 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: Zephyrsaerie won.)
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