7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Tova Mirvis - Writer's Digest

7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Tova Mirvis

1) Enjoy the good days: The euphoria of a new idea! The sense that every thing around you has a place in your novel! That conversation you overhear? You know exactly what page it will go on. The dress that woman is wearing? You know which character is going to have it on tomorrow. Revel in the fact that the sentences seem to write themselves, in the fact that you are doing the job that you are meant to do. Grab hold of this moment, collect it like a perfect specimen you can pin to a board. GIVEAWAY: Tova 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: janice666 won.)
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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 Tova Mirvis, author of VISIBLE CITY) 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: Tova 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: janice666 won.)

visible-city-tova-mirvis
tova-mirvis-author-writer

Tova Mirvis is the author of VISIBLE CITY (March 2014), The Outside World and
The Ladies Auxiliary, which was a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared
in various anthologies and newspapers including The New York Times, Good
Housekeeping, and Poets and Writers, and her fiction has been broadcast on

National Public Radio. She has been a Visiting Scholar at The Brandeis Women’s
Studies Research Center and is a recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council
Fiction Fellowship. She lives in Newton, MA with her three children.
Find her on Facebook.

1) Enjoy the good days: The euphoria of a new idea! The sense that every thing around you has a place in your novel! That conversation you overhear? You know exactly what page it will go on. The dress that woman is wearing? You know which character is going to have it on tomorrow. Revel in the fact that the sentences seem to write themselves, in the fact that you are doing the job that you are meant to do. Grab hold of this moment, collect it like a perfect specimen you can pin to a board.

2) Because there will be bad days. Lots of them. The novel is a dead end. Your whole life is a dead end. Look at the pages you’ve slaved over and squint in non-recognition. Is this even in English? On these days, Google alternate careers. Feel relieved that you have a dentist appointment so that you can justifiably not write. Stare in amazement at the dentist, this capable man who has discovered a cavity and fixed it in one hour. Think about the fact that in one hour, you would have looked at a sentence and discovered that it was a little vague, changed a few words, then deleted the sentence. Consider asking if you can work for him, if you can go home with him. Know that these days are unavoidable, that a novel is forged in pain and doubt. Don’t write a novel unless you can withstand these days.

(Why you should only query 6-8 agents at a time.)

3) Sit down every day. Don’t wait for the long uninterrupted stretches. They will not come. Remind yourself a few times each day of your college writing teacher to whom you dared to complain that you were too busy you write. Remember that cool assessing gaze in her eye: if you are a writer, she said, then you write. Write when you’re not in the mood; write when the house is a mess and write when you’re depressed and exhausted. If you have children, know that this applies twice as much to you. You will think of your kids while you write, and you will think of your writing while you are with your kids. Write anyway. Be gentle on yourself in other places, but not here.

4) Learn how to be alone. Turn off your internet. Crave the feeling of being deeply immersed inside your writing world. Feel a physical need to be in that space in your head where you are no longer yourself, yet most fully yourself. Know that the deepest pleasure comes not from others’ responses but from the work itself.

5) There is a cost for doing this. Writing requires an honesty that makes some people uncomfortable. If you write about places you’ve lived, people you’ve known, be prepared to feel like a combination of a stripper and a disgraced politician. Know that some people will be wary around you, for fear that you will be mining their lives for material. Know that being a writer means that you will be mining people’s lives for material. Know that there is no good answer to the dilemma of how you can write about the people you care about. Know that what you write exposes you far more than it exposes them. The only way around this is to write about things you don’t care about – and understand that this isn’t an option for a writer. Find ways to shield yourself. Don’t talk about works in progress when they are still fragile; think of them as delicate fetal creatures that can’t be taken outside. Protect them and yourself.

(Secrets to querying literary agents: 10 questions answered.)

6) Revise. Listen to the voice that tells you a scene isn’t working. Hold yourself to your highest standard. Don’t think you can get away with anything. Know that when you tell people you are almost done with a book, you probably aren’t. Say it because it makes you sound like you are being productive but don’t be fooled. “Finished” is a word that needs to have permanent quotes around it. Know that writing takes an incredibly long time. Believe in patience.

7) Revise. Know that even after you have revised, it’s probably still not done. Be kind and ruthless at the same time. Hear in your head a children’s book you read to your kids about a bear hunt: can’t go over, it can’t go under it, have to go through it. Recite this to yourself when you want to flee. Gird yourself as if for battle. Go back in, find those scenes where you fled before it got messy. Think of the earlier drafts as layers of dead skin. Peel them back, press in closer to the truth, until you can feel its warm beating heart.

GIVEAWAY: Tova 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: janice666 won.)

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