7 Things I've Learned so Far, Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore, author of THE BIG REWIND (Feb. 2016, William Morrow Paperbacks), shares the top seven things she's learned about being a writer.
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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 Libby Cudmore, author of THE BIG REWIND) 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.

Libby Cudmore's work has appeared in The Stoneslide Corrective, PANK, The Big Click, Big Lucks and the forthcoming Hanzai Japan anthology. She lives in Upstate New York, where she is a plucky reporter for the Hometown Oneonta and the Freeman's Journal. Her first book is THE BIG REWIND (Feb. 2016, William Morrow Paperbacks). You can find her on her blog or on Twitter.


1. Be Honest About Your Writing Time

I write best in the morning, before anyone else is up. But it took me a long time to accept that, trying to convince myself that I could sleep in and still get writing done. Spoiler Alert: I didn't, and now, when that alarm goes off, I'm up and at my desk. Writing early in the day also helps me guard that writing time, because it's rare that anyone would need me at 7 a.m.

2. Figure Out If You're A Sprinter or a Marathoner

I love the romantic ideal of spending my entire day locked away in my office, crafting my next masterpiece manuscript, but in writing THE BIG REWIND, I realized that I write better in short sprints – 45 minutes to an hour a day, early in the morning, seven days a week. Some days I get in more, but I always get in that first hour.

(When can you finally call yourself a writer?)

3. Find A "Writing Song"

Sometimes it's hard to get into the writing mode. Work stress, housework and family obligations can all take up crucial brain-space and make sitting down at the desk seem like a Herculean task. But I've found that picking a specific song that tells me "It's writing time," helps me clear that headspace. And it changes with every project – for THE BIG REWIND, it was Steely Dan's "Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)." With my new WIP, it's Chastity Belt's "Joke."

4. Find An Agent Who Suits Your Personality (As Well As Your Writing)

If Jim McCarthy wasn't my agent, I would want him to be my friend. He's bright, funny and supportive, as well as a total rock star in the business. Some agents are hands-off, others want to meddle in the story, some are cheerleaders, others are blunt to the point of seeming cruel. Figure out what sort of personality you need on your team, and look for an agent who fits that. Speed-dating events, conferences, blogs, even Twitter can help you find an agent who will work well with you.

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5. You Will Survive A Bad Review

I was spoiled early on with THE BIG REWIND, getting a starred Kirkus review in the very early ARC stages. But it wasn't all going to be bunnies and rainbow candy. I very quickly received those one-star reviews, skewering my book for my 80s references, my characters' names, choice of music, even a few nasty, personal attacks. But I survived them, and now, seeing one star and a scathing review doesn't bother me in the slightest.

It's also helped me be more respectful of other writers. If I don't like a book, I don't leave a bad review. It's not my job to dictate what other people read, and I know other people will love that author's work more than I did.

6. Remember Your Roots, And Be Generous

I remember being 16 and attending writing conferences, feeling for the first time like people took me seriously as a writer. So when I was invited back to the Pen in Hand Young Writers Conference in Little Falls, New York, I made it a point to make every kid in my workshop feel the same way. Rather than focus on making their writing "better," I taught the creative process, giving the exercises designed to make them think about themselves as writers, encouraging them to read and listen and share, and asking all of them to autograph their story in my copy of the anthology. And they reminded me how to write like a teenager again, without inhibition and rules.

So give back whenever you can. Encourage a young writer, or host a workshop so that people who don't think of themselves as writers can enjoy telling their stories. You'll increase your writing karma, inspire others and maybe even come away inspired yourself.

(When can you refer to yourself as "a writer"? The answer is NOW, and here's why.)

7. Do The Dishes

Whenever I have writer's block, I do the dishes. There's always a coffee pot that needs to be cleaned out, and by the time I'm done, I've resent my brain and can think through what was blocking me. Sweep the floor, vacuum or make the bed, but find some small, quick task that will loosen up those tensions and clear your head.


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