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7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sally Koslow

5. Read your work aloud. You may sound full of yourself, but this is the best way to listen for rhythm--or lack of it, to zone in on klutzy spots and to hear words you may overuse: all, always, just, so, usually, very, perhaps, really… If you repeat words, be intentional about it. This reminds me… GIVEAWAY: Sally 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: Sunshine1117 won.)

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Sally Koslow, author of THE WIDOW WALTZ and other books) 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: Sally 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: Sunshine1117 won.)

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Sally Koslow is the author of four novelsTHE WIDOW WALTZ was recently
released in paperback—as well as a nonfiction book, Slouching Toward Adulthood.
She has published essays and articles in The New York Times, More, Real Simple,
O the Oprah Magazine, other magazines and two anthologies, teaches creative
writing at Sarah Lawrence College and through the New York Writers Workshop
and works as an independent writing coach. Previously, she was editor-in-chief
of McCall’s and other magazines. Find her on Twitter.

1. Use exercise to kickstart your creativity. Nothing strategic. No Zumba, which is all about fancy footwork or Pilates, where your brain needs to concentrate on sucking in your gut—pardon, your core. Definitely no team sports, golf, tennis or walking with a chatterbox. Pick something repetitive like solo walking, running, biking or swimming, when you space out and mimic a dream state. When I run, I feel as if I’ve pressed my writing on button. I’m that geek who stops running to scribble ideas.

2. If you write fiction, cross-train your brain by trying non-fiction writer or vice versa. For fiction, imagination is the glue. For non-fiction, it’s curiosity. Memoir is a hybrid that needs a big scoop of both.

(What should you do after rejection?)

3. Picture your scenes as a movie and take notes on what you see and hear. Don’t make your dialogue too writerly. Most American speech is choppy, even rude, as we interrupt one another and forget whatever we know about grammar.

4. Your computer is your friend (thank you, search engines and spell-check) but only up to a point. Don’t reread your work exclusively on a screen—it will look too finished. Print it out, more than once. The longer you work on something, the greater the fatigue-factor. It’s normal to get sick of your writing after a while. Every time you print, switch fonts to trick your eyes into seeing your work in a fresh way.

5. Read your work aloud. You may sound full of yourself, but this is the best way to listen for rhythm--or lack of it, to zone in on klutzy spots and to hear words you may overuse: all, always, just, so, usually, very, perhaps, really… If you repeat words, be intentional about it. This reminds me…

(Are you writing middle grade, edgy paranormal, women's fiction or sci-fi? Read about agents seeking your query.)

6. Keep a running list of words you overuse. When you’ve finished a chapter or draft, use your writing program’s find/replace feature to see what you can cut or change. Make it a head game. Who needs Candy Crush?

7. When you’re “finished,” put your writing aside to gel. Rushed writing is rarely your best work. Read, rinse, repeat--again and again.

8 (BONUS!). Remember that a published book has at least five sales hurdles. #1 is to yourself, when you decide your manuscript is ready to be seen by agent. #2: an agent agrees to work with you and presents your book to a select group of editors. One or more of them fall in love with it—there may be an auction--and try to convince a colleague committee to acquire the book. With luck, you make sale #3—to a publisher. The publisher’s sales team works to place your book in stores and other venues: sale #4. The most important sale, #5, is to readers, though you may be lucky with bonus sales to foreign publishers, television or Hollywood.

GIVEAWAY: Sally 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: Sunshine1117 won.)

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